Curve groundskeeper relishes­ behind-the-scenes role

LAKEMONT – Minutes into a conversation with a guest Friday, Ben Young’s phone rang with a call from Altoona Curve General Manager Rob Egan: The day’s rain had stopped, if only temporarily, and Young had to get to the field.

Within minutes, Young, the Curve’s head groundskeeper, was among 15 workers rolling up a massive tarp, hurling piles of dirt onto the diamond and readying the field for the Clearfield and Altoona high school players warming up nearby.

“The saying goes: If people notice you, you’re not doing your job right,” Young said. “You just stay behind the scenes.”

Now in his third year with the Curve and his ninth in groundskeeping, Young, 28, has kept fields in order for at least two minor league teams, a major league training ground and a slew of other users. On Friday, he was busy readying the park for a Curve Classic game at risk from ugly weather.

Working year-round to mow lawns, kill grass diseases and keep the diamond in regulation order, Young is one of an increasingly small number of groundskeepers not formally educated in the field. It’s a burgeoning industry, he said, but one that now relies largely on turfgrass management graduates.

“The field in general is becoming a lot more professionalized,” he said.

Penn State University, for example, sports a Center for Turfgrass Science, a two-year golf course grass management program and an online certificate in turfgrass management.

Like any field, students pursue sought-after internships – a former PNG Park intern is now studying with the Congressional County Club, Young said – and carry out serious research.

For Young, though, his career started with a college summer job with the Gateway Grizzlies, a minor league team near St. Louis.

“When I was in college, I actually had a business degree,” he said. “I thought, ‘Do I like sitting in business classes? No, I just love being outside.'”

Since then, he’s moved through the ranks, working at the Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers’ training fields in Glendale, Ariz., before taking the helm in Altoona. Each field is different, he said, with unique grasses and, in Pennsylvania’s case, sometimes unpredictable weather.

Weather forecasts and radar maps are the first thing Young checks when he wakes up and the last thing he checks before bed, he said. With his job wholly dependent on the climate, he keeps a running information-for-tickets arrangement with local meteorologists.

On Friday, stadium workers stopped periodically to discuss the latest forecast while high school parents waited eagerly for the rain to let up. When game time arrived and the tarp was pulled away, a seemingly pristine diamond awaited the players.

The job isn’t for the unmotivated: Long days, many up to 12 hours in the weeks leading up to baseball season, are punctuated by flurries of activity when bad weather strikes. The hours needed to put down turf aren’t always conducive to putting down roots.

“That’s one of the downfalls of the job: you’re either single or your wife’s mad at you,” he said with a laugh.

Nevertheless, he gets to supervise a small crew and work outside – not to mention the perk of a season’s worth of free baseball games.

“It’s nice being able to be outside and kind of set your own hours, even if they’re long,” Young said. “In the end, I work in baseball. You can’t really complain.”

Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.