Head Groundskeeper // Cincinnati Reds
2020 Class of Pioneers in the Field
What is it about great sports teams that has them remembered throughout history? Is it their underdog spirit, sideline antics or memorable playoff runs that leave a legacy? Or is their pride in the team that goes on to inspire communities, cities and fans for years to come.
Stephen Lord is looking to leave behind a legacy with the Cincinnati Reds crew he leads today. Lord was embraced by baseball’s turf community as a novice and shown the ropes by some of the best. The mentorship Lord received early on introduced him to the motivations he would develop for his own career. As head groundskeeper, Lord looks to guide the future leaders of sports turf. Lord said, “I hope my focus on mentorship resonates with them, mentorship to me is everything. I hope that’s the legacy I leave behind for my staff and crew.”
Lord decided on baseball after realizing in college that turf management on the golf course was a never ending battle. Baseball presented Lord with the opportunity to perfect every inch of a diamond and be ready for show time each night at 7:10. Lord feels that he grew up at MLB stadiums. With his first gig as an intern and through his twenties, Lord learned that the stadium was his safe haven to grow and evolve. That’s why today, it’s in those moments when he’s tending to the field before batting practice or teaching a group of newbies how to drag the infield, he truly feels at home.
Lord always reminds himself of the advice Tom Burns preached, “even on your worst days, you’re still at the stadium.” This bit of advice has served as a guidepost in Lord’s career. “When we have eight tarp pulls or I’m in meetings all day, it’s still been a day at the stadium. At the end of each day this is where I love being,” said Lord.
Even on your worst days, you’re still at the stadium.” This bit of advice has served as a guidepost in Lord’s career. “When we have eight tarp pulls or I’m in meetings all day, it’s still been a day at the stadium. At the end of each day this is where I love being."
Tom Burns is just one of the mentors that invested in Lord’s career and stressed the importance of mentorship within the sports turf community. It’s his days as an intern under Dennis Klein of the Texas Rangers that Lord feels forever changed the course of his career. “I want to give back like they (Burns and Klein) did because I was an intern once and I realize how important those foot-in-the-door experiences are. There were people in my career that wanted me to succeed and invested time and effort to teach me things that would impact my future. I want to be able to do the same for the future leaders of sports turf,” says Lord. That is why mentorship has been Lord’s top priority since joining the Cincinnati Reds five seasons ago. He has ensured that each member of his crew has access to a full learning experience.
Lord believes that “mentors mean so much in this industry, your success depends on the quality of your leaders.” When hiring members for his crew, Lord is very thoughtful about their place within the program. “I always look for motivated self-starters. I’ve been interviewing people now for ten years and immediately if I sense any hesitation in them, I try and identify that.” Lord figures out what might be holding a candidate back. Is it the industry they’re not sure about or their own skill set? Lord believes it’s all about finding folks who will succeed in the position you’re looking to fill. When hiring his senior staff Lord spends just as much time finding the right folks. With his most recent hire, Christo Wallace, Lord wanted to guarantee Wallace would not only be able to handle the assistant position but that Wallace also valued passing on his knowledge to their interns. Lord said, “I need to have assistants that I can trust to teach and articulate directions to our interns.
… I was an intern once and I realize how important those foot-in-the-door experiences are. There were people in my career that wanted me to succeed and invested time and effort to teach me things that would impact my future. I want to be able to do the same for the future leaders of sports turf.”
I don’t want someone who will just bark commands at them and Christo has proved to be a great mentor.” Lord doesn’t limit his reach to the members on his crew. Lord is on the STMA board of directors, and frequently takes to Twitter as @TurfSpartanLord to engage with the enthused turf community. Lord’s social media activity is a continuation of his dedication to mentorship. “Twitter is a vehicle to drive new ideas and share our struggles. We can all learn so much from the honest picking of each other’s brain,” Lord noted. Lord successfully gains visibility for the industry, the Reds stadium and his crew through his thoughtful commentary and photo sharing on Twitter. Lord’s Twitter feed is like opening a sports turf text book. With his day-to-day updates of the crew’s latest project, most recently the chemically killing of their field as they look to renovate this offseason, Lord is starting important conversations. The Great American Ballpark is located in the heart of the transition zone which poses a threat to grass. “It’s difficult to find a grass variety that thrives, let alone survives in this part of the country,” says Lord. The Reds crew has decided on Kentucky bluegrass after testing extensively with a sod farmer for two and a half years. Lord has posted about each step of the process so others can learn from his experience. He has also posted about each meal he’s eaten along the way.
Lord is appreciative to be a part of the passionate niche turf community. He’s thankful to have other professionals rally around his success and offer help when he’s struggling to solve a question. Even if that question is what to have for lunch. Lord and other food enthusiasts in the turf community are known as The Foodies of Turf on Twitter. The comical commentary about weird dishes they may try when traveling or the must stop BBQ spots is shared with the hashtag #foodiesofturf. Lord says the group is just another way the turf community effectively shares ideas with one another, whether it’s about mouthwatering burgers or the latest grass varieties they’re testing.
When Lord isn’t cooking up ideas on Twitter, he’s in his kitchen at home whipping up one of his specialties like chicken enchiladas verdes for his family. Lord acknowledges that turf can be difficult on families but he knows he’s lucky to have a strong support system at home that sees his gig as more than grass and dirt. Lord said, “my wife and son understand what I do. My son loves coming to the stadium and riding the equipment with me. My wife sees it on the home front as well. She sees the 2 a.m. weather checks or the 8 p.m. tarp pulls.” Lord admits that it’s hard to turn it off, even when he’s home during the season he is worrying about the weather or the grass. Lord said, “my wife supports me through everything tough and I’m lucky to have someone flexible at home who understands that I love what I do.”
My wife and son understand what I do. My son loves coming to the stadium and riding the equipment with me. My wife sees it on the home front as well. She sees the 2 a.m. weather checks or the 8 p.m. tarp pulls.”
During the season, Lord may spend more time at the stadium than in his kitchen at home but he’s grateful to have a family on the field as well. Lord said, “crew is unique with baseball because you spend such an extensive amount of time together. Our crew experiences very little turn-over so our group mimics a family more than anything else. We all know each other’s ticks. Our family oriented crew helps us get through those tarp pulls or days of field recovery after a big event or concert.”
The Reds crew see each other through the daily grind from sun up to sun down. When first pitch is at 7:10 p.m., a typical day in the life will start at 9 a.m. The crew handles everything from prepping bullpens to beautifying the outside of the stadium. Lord said, “baseball is a lot of hurry up and wait. Hurry up and set up batting practice, then wait around for the teams to finish. Hurry to pull the tarp and then wait for the clouds to pass.” At every level Lord says that groundskeepers hold themselves to the highest standard, and that passion is what allows them to ignore the insanity of the business. “The crazy hours, the long weeks, weekends and months that run together into a ‘season’. That passion doesn’t start with the simple statement of ‘love what you do’ but it’s defined by what we do every day. We don’t just show up to work. We are obsessed with our work,” tweeted Lord while discussing the nature of his industry on Twitter.
Lord said, “I’m just a guy who manages a baseball field every day because I love what I do. I’m passionate about the challenge.” One of Lord’s favorite parts about managing a baseball field? “I love tracking the weather and seeing how it’s going to affect my day on the field,” reflected Lord. Lord deemed himself a nerd who is inspired by the science of grass. He’s constantly asking the question of how he can make the surface better with innovated adjustments.
The crazy hours, the long weeks, weekends and months that run together into a ‘season’. That passion doesn’t start with the simple statement of ‘love what you do’ but it’s defined by what we do every day. We don’t just show up to work. We are obsessed with our work.”
“I love the crazy length we go to foster growth and development of millions of blades of grass that will someday die.” Lastly, the passionate industry professionals in sports turf are always fueling Lord’s desire to try new things. Lord beamed, “I have assistants who dream up things that get me out of bed each morning. I love coming to the stadium to see what they’re going to come up with that day.”
Lord gives us a front row seat to the exciting innovations coming from the sports turf industry. We’re staying tuned as Lord continues to build his legacy at the Great American Ballpark, in STMA and as a leader in the sports turf industry.