Originally created 01/20/99

Tigers name baseball first female groundskeeper



GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Groundbreaking achievement is nothing new for the first woman ever named head groundskeeper for a major league baseball team.

The Detroit Tigers said Tuesday that Heather Nabozny will direct grooming at Tiger Stadium starting March 1. She replaces Frank Feneck, who is retiring after more than 35 years on the job.

At age 28, she's among the youngest head groundskeepers in the majors.

For Nabozny, who spent five years as head groundskeeper for the West Michigan Whitecaps, the Tigers' west Michigan minor league affiliate, the position is a chance to hone what she calls her "passion for perfection."

The child of a lawn-care company owner, Nabozny fell in love with grass long before she ever earned a degree in turf management.

"Taking care of a surface that players play on is incredible," she said Tuesday, her voice growing more animated as she described the importance of moisture on the diamond and customizing the infield to individual player's needs.

"I like baseball, but I watch more how the ball plays rather than the game ... whether the cleats stick, how the ball bounces," she said.

"I'm just doing my job like everyone else," she said, adding she's not intimidated at the thought of directing a ground crew of as many as 15 men. "I've always worked with males. Going to school I was the only one in the turf program. I'm pretty used to it."

Nabozny's job will include moving the team into a new stadium in 2000.

"Heather has obviously done an outstanding job with the field in West Michigan," Tigers assistant general manager Steve Lubratich said in a statement. "We look forward to her bringing the same level of expertise and enthusiasm to the grounds here."

"My advice to Heather is do what she's doing and don't listen to anybody," said George Toma, who has spent more than 40 years groundskeeping for the Kansas City Royals and more than 30 years with the Super Bowl.

He was impressed when he met Nabozny two years ago. "Some of the women, they're going to do a better job than the men. Heather's going to do a good job."

Nabozny may not always be in a league of her own. There are a handful of women groundskeepers in the minor and major leagues already working their way up the ranks.

"I think it's a really big deal," said Connie Rudolph, head groundskeeper for the St. Paul Saints, a minor league team in St. Paul, Minn. "She's going to be a real model for a lot of girls. ... She was chosen because she's going to do an excellent job."