Art manager

Field Manager: Colonial Forge Grad keeps Fredericksburg Nationals playing surface in pristine condition | Securities


Shortly before 9:30 a.m. under sunny skies the last week of the season, Jake Mays pulls his white Ford F-150 pickup into a parking spot behind the Fredericksburg Nationals stadium.

After completing a day of work just over nine hours earlier, the 2015 Colonial Forge High School graduate is about to begin another long day of perpetual motion as the first-year chief caretaker of the organization.

He walks into his office briefly to check the forecast. He then turns on the John Deere tractor left behind by the franchise’s former home at Pfitzner Stadium in Woodbridge and heads for the infield. Turf, his 75-pound, 1.5-year-old black Labrador, who sits comfortably under Mays’ leg on the step, joins him as always.

Mays’ assistant will arrive in about 15 minutes, but for now the only ones inside the park are Mays and Turf circling around the infield preparing for another game at 9:30.

Jake Mays and a dog working in the field.

The first in the field. The last to go. The gardener’s life is demanding, unglamorous and anchored in routine. But Mays, 24, is in his comfort zone. That’s why he chose to specialize in turf management at Virginia Tech. And that’s why he’s here now to make sure nothing is overlooked.

As a demonstration later in the morning, he drives the tip of a wrench into the soil inside the field, then pulls it up to test the soil’s moisture level. The key, which represents a spike in a player’s crampon, is clean, meaning the surface is well saturated and a player can move smoothly along the dirt to line a ball on the ground or run. to a base without incident.

The morning starts again on the right foot.

“I come to work and my office is a baseball field,” Mays said.


From an early age, Mays was destined to combine his two greatest passions: playing sports and working the land. He loved agriculture and the science behind cultivating the soil.

Then one day he attended a Washington Nationals game and saw the field team take care of the field. Something clicked.

As the only child of two parents who coached track and field in high school, Mays has spent countless hours on the courts. Her first experience in court management came at Hylton High School in Prince William County, where her mother, Karen, coached volleyball.

Under the tutelage of then operations manager Jim Qualls, Mays learned how to properly maintain a playing surface. At halftime in Hylton’s football games, for example, Mays helped Qualls replace Divots.

“I was Jimmy’s boyfriend,” Mays said. “I didn’t go to daycare. I hung out at Hylton.

As much as Mays enjoyed playing sports, he preferred spending time on the court for other reasons.

At Colonial Forge, Mays played freshman football and junior college football before moving on to golf for the fall of his junior year. The change gave him more time to do things like paint the football field with logos.

“I worked on the pitch more than I played there,” Mays said.


Want to stay in state for college. Mays chose Virginia Tech for their turf management program. His time at Blacksburg only fueled his interest further and helped him run internships with the Boston Red Sox, Washington Nationals and Seattle Seahawks.

At every location, Mays learned the dos and don’ts of the industry, from supervising a ground crew to how to maintain a pitch professionally. He also established a network of fellow gardeners which he still uses today.

One of them helped him apply for the FredNats job.

After spending 2020 working at Lovett School in Atlanta, Mays wanted to be closer to home. He was tired of traveling and the year of COVID-19 left him isolated.

Mays returned for some landscaping work, but at the end of December he saw that the FredNats were looking for a garden manager. Mays reached out to John Turnour, the chief goaltender for the Washington Nationals, to share his thoughts on the opening. Turnour suggested that he apply. Mays, who worked under Turnour in the summer of 2018, followed Turnour’s advice.

In mid-January, Mays returned to the job with a full list of events ahead of him. FredNats owner Art Silber built the new stadium for the 2020 minor-league baseball season. But the pandemic canceled the season. Now things were up and running and Mays was eager to help with the long-awaited opening.

“Growing up here and seeing the stadium under construction and being a part of it now – it will always mean a lot to me no matter where I end up,” said Mays.

This spring, a team from a local high school (Fredericksburg Christian) used the land. With the start of the minor league season being delayed until May, the Washington Nationals used the field in April as an alternate site for their AAA prospects. Then, on May 11, the FredNats played their first of 60 home games in their four-month season.

With so much to do in the field, Mays spends little time in his office. As of mid-September, the whiteboard above his desk still contained the daily April stadium schedule for Washington Nationals AAA players. But Mays doesn’t need any schedule reminders. At this point, he knows the routine by heart, especially on match days.

After dragging the infield for 90 minutes, he deals with the mound and home plate for another 90 minutes. There is a lunch break in the early afternoon, followed by Mays and his assistant Joseph Kennedy who set up and break down the batting practice.

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He and his team return to fieldwork an hour before the first pitch, then with just 90 seconds to do so, take out the rakes and steel mesh drag to smooth out the infield late in the third and six innings. When the game ends, the ground team does some finishing touches before calling it a night.


Grass is also part of the routine. Well behaved, he might chase the occasional bird, but he never runs after baseballs.

If Turf needs to go to the bathroom, he goes back to the woods. And if, for some rare reason, he walks away, Turf wears a tag on his collar with the FredNats address and the front desk phone number.

For the most part, Turf spends his day on a pillow in Mays’ office to keep cool. But that does not prevent visitors from registering. Once, Mays walked into his office and found Washington Nationals third baseman Carter Kieboom playing with a well-rested Turf.

“[Turf] sleeps a lot more than I do, ”Mays said.

Turf makes his last appearance at the end of the match where a group of season ticket holders behind the plate give him treats. During the FredNats’ last stay in September, fans presented Mays with a signed framed photo of Turf.

“People adopted it,” Mays said. “They like to have him with them.”

While most aspects of his job are repetitive, there are some nuances.

Mays said the biggest challenge was the weather. A threat of rain demands constant attention from Mays.

Before the game, he is responsible for deciding when to pull the tarp on and off the field. And it is not an easy task. When dry, the tarp weighs 1,500 pounds. As he and his team were working together for the first time, they practiced deploying and then removing the tarp in April in preparation for the season.

He also talks to the players to get feedback on the playing surface. If they’re good, he’s good. And there is no better feeling.

“The fan can look at the pitch and think it’s all good,” Mays said. “But I can tell when something’s wrong. If the players are happy with the way the field is playing, that is my greatest satisfaction.

David Fawcett is a sports writer for InsideNoVa and a resident of Stafford County. He can be contacted at [email protected]


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