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Head Groundskeeper Wins National Award Again

Over Parkview Field’s first seven seasons, no shortage of records have been set for sell-out crowds, winning streaks, and on-field performances. Now, the man responsible for the maintenance of the field itself has a new mark of his own.

Minor League Baseball has announced Fort Wayne TinCaps Head Groundskeeper Keith Winter as the winner of the 2015 Single-A Sports Turf Manager of the Year, presented by the Sports Turf Managers Association (STMA). This is the third consecutive year Winter has claimed the honor among the 60 groundskeepers in Single-A (made up of the Midwest League, South Atlantic League, California League, Carolina League, and Florida State League).

Since the award’s inception in 2000, Winter is the first ever three-time winner at the Single-A level. He’s also the first ever at any level to win the award three years in a row. (Brock Phipps of the Double-A Springfield Cardinals won his third straight this year as well.)

“I’m proud to be receiving this award on behalf of our TinCaps Grounds Crew and entire organization,” Wintersaid. “Regardless of awards, we’ve set out here to create a culture based on consistency and hard work. Recognition like this only helps drive us to continue to do the best job we can to provide a field that isn’t just ascetically pleasing, but provides the safest conditions for players.”

Winners are selected via a 16-member awards committee, compiled by STMA. Each nominee is independently scored on cultural practices, game day routine, resource utilization, staff management and the groundskeeper’s involvement and support of the sports turf industry.

Winter — who works alongside Assistant Groundskeeper Ryan Lehrman and Groundskeeping Assistant Jake Sperry, in addition to Bob Michel, Josh Rode, Parker Crosby, and Tristan Sprunger — will receive the award at the Baseball Winter Meetings Banquet on Monday, Dec. 7, at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville, Tenn.

“This is once again a most-deserved award for Keith,” said TinCaps President Mike Nutter. “The work ethic, dedication, and passion he shows on a daily basis are unbelievable. There are so many great fields in the Midwest League, it’s an honor to be selected among them, yet alone all the facilities in the warm-weather leagues, too. And we couldn’t do this without our partners with the San Diego Padres, who share our desire for the best possible playing field.”

Winter’s award this year isn’t only remarkable because he’s the first to win it three times in a row (no Midwest League groundskeeper had ever won once), but also in light of what had to be overcome along the way.

After a second consecutive assistant groundskeeper moved up to the big leagues in March (Andrew Burnette joined the Pittsburgh Pirates), Winter was left needing to fill and train that position, plus two game-day workers, and an intern.

Fortunately, the new crew caught on quickly. It needed to with Fort Wayne experiencing its rainiest summer in history. More than 20 inches of rain fell in June, July, and August alone.

Those hurdles came on top of the “usual” 100-plus on-field events. In 2015, Parkview Field hosted 72 TinCaps games, 24 high school games, and more than a dozen camps, clinics, and VIP batting practices. Beyond baseball, there were three major concerts, like Dierks Bentley in July, and Fort4Fitness with some 10,000 runners crossing home plate. The list goes on. And yet, the TinCaps Grounds Crew was voted the Midwest League’s Grounds Crew of the Year for a sixth straight season.

“Each year, we highlight members in MiLB with the recognition they deserve for producing high-quality, safe, and playable fields," said Kim Heck, CEO of STMA. “In an industry where Mother Nature is unpredictable, individuals like Keith find innovative and persistent ways to maintain excellent field conditions."

“Minor League Baseball takes great pride in providing state-of-the-art facilities to our thousands of players across our 15 leagues and our millions of fans across the country,” said Pat O’Conner, Minor League Baseball President & CEO. “Each year, along with STMA, we recognize the individuals such as Keith who have been instrumental in ensuring that our playing surfaces are not only aesthetically pleasing, but also meet professional baseball’s field condition requirements.”

Winter will stay busy this offseason. Besides preparing Parkview Field for the 2016 season, he’s set to represent STMA at the Athletic Business Conference & Expo, an international event, in New Orleans on Nov. 21. Appropriately, he’ll be speaking about “Turf Management Practices on High Use/High Wear Sports Fields.” STMA has never had a representative at this event before.

On Jan. 8, Winter will be in Indianapolis for the Indiana Green Expo, the state’s largest and most comprehensive green industry event. There, he’ll present on Parkview Field’s 2012 field renovation. Later in January, Winter will join colleagues from around the world in San Diego for the 27th Annual STMA Conference and Exhibition.

Said Winter: “This is a labor of love.”