Orioles head groundskeeper is outstanding in her field

With frigid weather and a yard blanketed with snow, it's hard to imagine ever seeing green lawns again. Yet spring is approaching, ever so slowly, and it's time for Marylanders to think about reclaiming home field advantage.

As head groundskeeper for the Baltimore Orioles, Nicole McFadyen has helped Camden Yards maintain its field of dreams over eight seasons and hundreds of ball games.

"Weather is always a challenge when it comes to keeping grass as healthy as possible," says McFadyen, 36, who is one of just two female head groundskeepers in Major League Baseball. "Whether it's extreme cold or heat, you've got to keep that grass comfy and the root system strong so that it stays healthy."

The O's grass guru will bring her green thumb, tips and techniques to the Maryland Home & Garden Show, which began this weekend and continues next weekend at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium.

Now in its 33rd year, the spring 2014 show features the latest home and garden products, assorted plants and exotic flowers and trees, as well as handmade crafts.

Home and garden enthusiasts will find more than 300 exhibitors on hand, showcasing the latest products and services for decks and patios, kitchens and baths, cabinets and countertops, driveways and gutters, pools and spas. More than a dozen landscapers will display their outdoor designs in vibrant gardens filled with blossoming flowers, patios, dramatic water features and cozy fire pits.

For the do-it-yourselfer, a series of free seminars will cover a variety of topics, from infusing color into your landscaping and dealing with invasive pests to remodeling your kitchen and harvesting rain water.

McFadyen, who is scheduled to host seminars both weekends, is looking forward to sharing her insight and answering questions about the science of growing beautiful and functional grass.

Camden Yards — widely hailed as one of the country's top stadiums — boasts a lush emerald field that requires year-round maintenance and TLC.

"It's 100 percent Kentucky bluegrass with a 16-inch layer of porous sand underneath," McFadyen says. "It needs a lot of water and nutrients. A big part of my job and the crew is making sure it's alive, healthy and as strong as possible. The field should be aesthetically pleasing to the fans, and safe and durable for the athletes."

Unlike many players who dream of someday making it to the big leagues, her path to the majors wasn't planned. But growing up in New Castle, Del., McFadyen always enjoyed nature and being outdoors.

A high school job fair convinced her that agriculture would be a viable career, although she didn't see herself farming.

"In college, my concentration was horticulture, and I took classes in things like turf science," she says of her studies at the University of Delaware. "I loved learning about plants."

After earning her degree, McFadyen honed her skills at several golf courses and worked at her alma mater's Research and Education Center as part of a team that tested new herbicides.

In 2001, she joined the Orioles as assistant head groundskeeper, a position she kept for two years until an opportunity arose in the minor leagues.

"I became the head groundskeeper for the Eastern League's Trenton Thunder," McFadyen says of the Double-A New Jersey affiliate of the New York Yankees. "It was great preparation for what I'm doing now."

She broke ground in Eastern League history as the first female head groundskeeper, garnering industry accolades along the way.

In 2007, McFadyen returned to the Orioles organization, becoming only the second woman ever to serve as head groundskeeper with a major league team.

Today, she and Heather Nabozny of the Detroit Tigers share the distinction of being the only female head groundskeepers in Major League Baseball. According to the Sports Turf Managers Association, approximately 10 women have held the position of head groundskeeper in the history of the game.

"Right now, we're the only two with this title. But more women are getting into this arena," she says. "I'd encourage them because it's a wonderful career."

McFadyen and her staff of more than two dozen seasonal and full-time tarp and grounds crew members typically put in 12- to 16-hour days once the season begins in March. The grass must be cut in two different directions every day, and the field irrigation system has to be working properly.

"On game days, we start early in the morning and don't leave until after the park closes at midnight or 1 a.m.," she says.

The pitcher's mound must be scrutinized, the batter's box ready to go, and the infield clay must be smooth. "There's a lot of wear and tear on those surfaces, and we want everything perfect so the athletes can do their jobs."

McFadyen, who is married with a son, says she sometimes pinches herself when considering how her job ties into the long legacy of America's storied pastime.

"Putting on my uniform, being out on the field and seeing how beautiful it looks is an amazing feeling."

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