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Head groundskeeper makes Patriots’ diamond shine

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TYLER, Texas — Weston Floyd works for The University of Texas at Tyler Athletic Department, but he doesn't coach, recruit or tutor student athletes.

What he does for the school might be just as important: Floyd is in his fifth year as UT Tyler's head groundskeeper.

Using his degree in turf-grass management from Texas A&M, Floyd maintains the baseball, softball and soccer fields. And his work speaks for itself.

"There's no doubt we've got the best field in the conference from what I've seen," said UT Tyler head baseball coach Paul Wyczawski. "I can safely say that ours would match up with most Division I fields across the country."

Floyd's love for field maintenance was born in high school, where he was a baseball player mesmerized by the field.

"Really, I got into it in high school; our high school field was phenomenal," he said. "I loved the patterns, and I loved the things people could do."

So when Floyd decided he wanted to get into the business, he enrolled at one of the top agricultural schools in the country — Texas A&M.

But instead of baseball fields, Floyd wanted to design golf courses and pursued a degree in landscape architecture.

"And after about a year and a half of that, I decided I was done with golf courses," he said. "I couldn't stand them; it was 364 days a year. We had Christmas Day off. That's when I got to looking at baseball and softball fields."

Floyd began working on the campus' intramural fields, which ultimately landed him a summer internship with the San Antonio Missions — a minor league baseball affiliate of the San Diego Padres.

He spent the following summer interning with the Albuquerque Isotopes, another minor league organization.

Floyd said that is where he learned about maintaining the dirt basepaths.

"Mainly you learn skin maintenance; that's the dirt portion," he said. "You really have to work on your skin (dirt) because if it's too dry or too wet, it can really have an effect on the game. You have to make sure you're working your edges (where the grass and dirt meet) and you can't have too high or too low because that causes bad hops."

Floyd recalls an incident when field conditions had a negative impact on a player.

"They had just done their edges, and (the player) had walked on it the next day and broke his ankle," he said.

In 2006, Floyd got the opportunity to work on Olsen Field, Texas A&M's baseball field, prior to graduation in May.

"I came across (the UT Tyler job upon graduation), applied for it, interviewed with (Dr. Howard Patterson) and everybody on the board," Floyd said. "They gave a college kid a chance, and I'll be here five years in July."

During the season, Floyd mows the baseball field twice per week, a process that takes about three hours. He enjoys mowing aesthetic patterns into the field but does not consider that to be his primary objective.

"I think safety is really that major aspect," he said. "Infielders have got to be confident that when a ball transitions from grass to skin, that he's not going to wear it in the face. Looks are what you strive for, but anything can look good, and it doesn't mean it's right."

Feedback is an important part of the job.

"He does (ask for feedback), especially before games and especially from the infielders," UT Tyler first baseman Nick Clifton said. "He'll ask how the dirt is playing. If something's not right, he'll do his best to get on it as quick as possible and fix it."

But mowing and watering is only a small sample of the groundskeeper's job.

"The edging, the fertilizing, the weed-eating, weed management or if we have fungi out here," Floyd said. "People think that when the teams are out of town, you're going home, too, and that's not the case. That's our time to do what we need to do."

In fact, Floyd is at his busiest on non-game days.

"Usually when I get through mowing the infield, that's when I start watering everything," he said. "You want to water deep, and when you start watering deep that's when it starts holding that moisture. (On a sunny day), we'll water nine or 10 times just to make sure we get good moisture. Because of the sun and wind, it'll dry out real fast."

After watering the infield, Floyd mows the outfield and foul territory before returning for another coat of water on the infield.

While the water sits, Floyd will mow the smaller softball field and then come back to the baseball field for more water.

"And depending on whether it's needed, we'll do something that's called spiking," he said. "We have a spike drag and it's just a large board with nails on it and that loosens the dirt up and loosens the (surface) material we put on top, getting rid of divots or chunks or anything. It gives it a good, smooth feel over everything."

Floyd said he will water the field two or three more times before practice begins.

As expected, weather plays an important role in Floyd's operation.

"I start every morning with the Weather Channel," he said. "We pull it up and I find out what's going on and I get an e-mail every day that gives me an hour-by-hour schedule that tells me what to expect."

Surprisingly, when it rains, Floyd said there is not much to be done.

"When it rains, we really don't have a lot to do because we have some drainage problems; it holds for a while," he said. "If we get 2 inches, it takes about a day to dry. We're pretty much shut down when we get a good rain, for a day or so."

Floyd said the most challenging part of his job is working without the aid of any full-time assistants.

"There's not a lot of time and there's not a lot of help," he said. "We have great student workers, but right now with budgets being tight, we try to focus on financial aid to balance out how we pay the students and how much comes out of my budget."

Floyd seems comfortable at UT Tyler but is keeping his future options open.

"I think my overall goal is one day to eventually be back in the minors," he said. "The atmosphere is so great in the minors."

Floyd would leave big shoes to fill.

"He's truly a professional groundskeeper," Wyczawski said. "And to have a guy of his expertise, his knowledge, his work ethic has just been huge. It sure takes a lot of the load off my shoulders."

Information from: Tyler Morning Telegraph, http://www.tylerpaper.com