Meet MiLB groundskeeper of the year winners

Here are articles on eight winners from eight different leagues:

Mike Soper, Carolina League

They say that the grass is always greener on the other side. Peabody native Mike Soper had made a career of seeing to it that the grass on his side of things truly is greener.

As the head groundskeeper for the single-A Frederick Keys baseball team in Maryland, Soper is responsible for the ballpark of the affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles. He was selected the Carolina League Sports Turf Manager of the Year for the 2015 season, an honor voted on the managers and umpires of the Carolina League.


There’s a lot that goes into managing a ballpark. Soper’s primary focus is the condition of the grass in the outfield, while managing the quality of the dirt in the infield and on the mounds is also paramount.

For the award, the umpires and managers from the Carolina League graded each park on 11 categories including field setup, overall surface, dirt, bullpen and professionalism.

“I’m honored,” said Soper. “It does mean a lot when you’re getting that recognition from the people around the league, especially with all the hard work my crew puts in. They’re dedicated and it’s nice to be recognized for all that time and effort.”

A 2006 graduate of Peabody High School, Soper ended up studying agriculture and turf at the University of Massachusetts. It may seem like managing a field is akin to a backyard and that simply watering and mowing the grass will get the job done.

In truth, the process is quite a bit more complicated. It’s almost scientific in nature.

“I describe is as being a chef. He doesn’t just show up at the restaurant right when it opens and start cooking; he’s there all the time preparing what kind of menu he wants,” Soper said. “The biggest thing that goes unnoticed with a grounds crew is the time. For a game at 7 p.m., we’re here at nine in the morning and working on that field all day.”

During college, Soper spent summers working for the City of Peabody while helping tend to some of the Tanner City’s many fields. That’s when he realized that it could be a viable career path. Following an internship with the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons, he worked at Lake Elsinore in California followed by a stint as an assistant with the Double-A Bowie Bay Sox.

Andy Beggs, Pacific Coast League

El Paso Chihuahuas head groundskeeper Andy Beggs has been named the Pacific Coast League’s 2015 Sports Turf Manager of the Year.

The award was voted on by field managers and on-field officials in the PCL.

It is not just based on the overall quality of the playing surface, but also includes criteria such as pregame setup, field marking, professionalism of the grounds crew, along with grading in over a half-dozen other categories.

Beggs’ recognition also makes him the PCL’s candidate for the Sports Turf Managers Association’s (STMA) Triple-A Sports Turf Manager of the Year, awarded annually at the Baseball Winter Meetings.

The 2015 season marks Beggs’ second as the Chihuahuas’ head groundskeeper, and it is the second-straight year he has finished among the top-three finalists in the league for the award. He earned a Presidential Commendation in 2014 for his work.

Beggs has been a groundskeeper in the PCL since 2012, having worked for the Tucson Padres from 2012-13. The Tucson Padres moved to El Paso and had their first season in the PCL in 2014.

“Playing surfaces across the PCL continue to be among the best in Minor League Baseball,” PCL president Branch Rickey said. “Andy’s work since joining El Paso has stood out, and by the consensus of personnel across the league, now merits his being singled out for this highest honor.”

The Wichita, Kansas native began his sports turf career while attending the University of Kansas and working on the baseball program’s grounds crew. He continued to learn the craft of groundskeeping as an intern with the Kansas City Royals and Milwaukee Brewers, before landing a position with the San Diego Padres in 2011. The Royals invited Beggs back to Kansas City last October to assist their grounds crew during the World Series.

John Stewart, International League

Syracuse Chiefs head groundskeeper John Stewart, who battles snow, sleet, ice and rain to keep the NBT Bank Stadium field in perfect shape, has been named the International League’s Sports Turf Manager of the Year.

Stewart is the first Syracuse Chiefs groundskeeper to earn that award, which has been handed out since 1992.

The award was established to recognize outstanding effort and excellence in the care and maintenance of a baseball playing surface. The winner is selected by managers and pitching coaches from around the league.

Stewart will now be under consideration for the Triple-A’s overall Sports Turf Manager of the Year Award, as selected by the Sports Turf Managers Association and presented annually at the baseball winter meetings.

Stewart, 30, who attended Nottingham High School, is completing his sixth season as the Chiefs head groundskeeper.

Matt Parrott, Eastern League

The Bowie Baysox and the Eastern League of Professional Baseball Clubs announce that Baysox Director of Field and Facility Operations Matt Parrott has been named the Diamond Pro Sports Field Manager of the Year. It is the second year in a row that the Baysox Grounds Crew has received this award and the third time in the past five years.

Parrott, who is in his 13th season with the Baysox, receives this award along with Assistant Turf Manager Andrew Lawing and the members of the Baysox Grounds Crew: Fred Bedell, Jake Hess, Jeremy Lamb and Jimmy Goode. Lawing is in his first season with the Baysox after serving the past two seasons with the Baltimore Orioles. He previously worked with USA Baseball after graduating from N.C. State University. Bedell has served more than 15 years on the Baysox Grounds Crew, along with Hess, who is in his fifth season, Lamb, who is in his third season and Goode who is new in 2015.

The members of the Baysox Grounds Crew were honored for their accomplishment by representatives from the Eastern League and from Diamond Pro Sports in a ceremony prior to the Baysox game Thursday, Aug. 20.

“We join Diamond Pro in recognizing Matt’s continued commitment to excellence for our organization,” said Baysox General Manager Brian Shallcross. “Over the years, the demands on turf managers have steadily been augmented by our industry. It takes a truly special manager to adapt to these demands while constantly pursuing and achieving the improvement to the safety and playability of our field.”

In both 2011 and 2014, Parrott was named the Diamond Pro Sports Eastern League Field Manager of the Year, which is voted on by field staff and umpires. In 2011, Parrott was also named the STMA (Sports Turf Managers Association) Double-A Sports Turf Manager of the Year.

Brian Rhodes, New York-Penn League

The head groundskeeper at Falcon Park, the home of the Auburn Doubledays, has received top honors from the New York-Penn League.

Brian Rhodes was selected as the 2015 New York-Penn League groundskeeper of the year.

Read more here

David Yearout, Northwest League

Spokane’s Avista Stadium has been named the 2015 Northwest League Field of the Year, extending the stadium’s unprecedented run of success in turf management.

“When I took over, I knew I better not be the guy to stop the streak,” said Spokane Indians Head Groundskeeper David Yearout, who has helped oversee a tenth straight year of winning the award for Avista Stadium.

The award is given to the team that has the best playing surface while maintaining pristine field conditions throughout the 76-game Northwest League season, as voted by league managers and coaches.

“It’s extremely competitive, which is awesome because the grounds crew is former athletes,” said Yearout, who is now one of 16 candidates for Minor League Baseball’s Sports Turf Manager of the Year. “We treat it like our own game now that we’re not playing anymore.  We can’t go play for the Indians, so we compete against the other grounds crews.  It feels really good.”

Josh Klute, American Association

For the 15th time in as many years, Haymarket Park – the home of the Saltdogs – was selected ‘Best Playing Field’ in the American Association, as voted by league managers and media.

Josh Klute has been the Athletic Turf Manager at Haymarket Park since 2006. In addition to the 10 American Association titles, he also helped earn the ballpark ‘Baseball Field of the Year’ in the College/University division by the Sports Turf Management Association in 2007 – the second time Hawks Field at Haymarket Park earned that national award.

“Each year I appreciate this award more and more as each year brings a new set of challenges,” Klute said. “There are some really good playing surfaces in the league so we definitely don’t take this award for granted.”

As a member of the Northern League, Haymarket Park garnered the award from its inception in 2001 through 2005, and has continued the title reign through all 10 seasons of American Association play.

“Congratulations to Josh and his staff for another job well done,” Saltdogs President/GM Charlie Meyer said. “With the addition of the new ballparks in the league, it’s an honor to again be named field of the year. So many opposing players and coaches tell me this is one of the best playing surfaces they’ve ever played on.”


Prior to his time at Haymarket Park Klute served as Athletic Turf Manager at the University of Oklahoma in 2005, Assistant Turf Manager for the Cleveland Indians minor-league affiliate in Lake County (Ohio) from 2003-2004, and as an intern with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2002.

Klute added: “I want to thank my assistant Jeremy Johnson, he is so important to our staff and I can’t possibly thank him enough. His attention to detail and knowledge of this industry is top notch. It takes a team effort and I must also thank Marcus Liable, Tyler Lutz – who was our intern this year – and Jen Roeber for her excellent work on our landscape and at Bowling Stadium; along with our entire game day turf crew. One more thank you goes out to the Saltdogs and the University of Nebraska, as their positive working relationship together helps make this one of the best facilities to play in around the country.”

Tommy Bowes, Florida State League

St. Lucie County Parks Crew Earns 2015 Florida State League Sports Turf Crew Award

For the 12th time, St. Lucie County’s Parks, Recreation and Facilities staff at Tradition Field received the Florida State League Commendation Certificate for their excellent maintenance and conditions of the facilities at the major league sports complex.

Announced last week, the Florida State League Sports Turf Crew Awards were initiated in 1990 and are selected annually by Field Managers and Pitching Coaches of the Florida State League.

The group issues five awards: Best Overall Award, Municipality Award, and three Florida State League Commendation Certificates. The St. Lucie Mets joined the Bradenton Marauders and the Charlotte Stone Crabs in receiving the Florida State League Commendation Certificates.

“Tommy Bowes and his staff have always done a terrific job maintaining our playing fields at Tradition Field Sports Complex,” said New York Mets Director of Florida Operations Paul Taglieri. “It is nice to see their dedication and continuous hard work be recognized by the coaches and players of the Florida State League. We are proud to have Tommy and his staff as part of our team.”

The winner of the Best Overall Award was the Clearwater Threshers for the 12th consecutive year, while the Fort Myers Miracles won the Municipality Award for the 17th time.

Owned and operated by St. Lucie County’s Parks, Recreation and Facilities Department, Tradition Field is located at 527 NW Peacock Blvd. in Port St. Lucie and serves as the spring training home of the New York Mets and the summer home of the St. Lucie Mets.