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Legends groundskeeper is quick study as he keeps field ready for games, other events

By John Reitman
Special to KyForward


Like the thoroughbred racehorses that have become a trademark of the area, Britt Barry is on the fast track to success.


Barry, 24, is in his second season as head groundskeeper at Whitaker Bank Ballpark, home of the Lexington Legends, a Class A South Atlantic League affiliate of the Kansas City Royals.


Britt Barry just finished his second season as the Legends' head groundskeeper. (Photo from TurfNetSports.com)

Britt Barry just finished his second season as the Legends’ head groundskeeper. (Photo from TurfNetSports.com)

“Did I think I’d be a head groundskeeper by 23? I sure was hoping so, but I can’t say I was sold on that it would happen,” said Barry, who graduated from Wilmington College with a degree in agriculture and a concentration in agronomy. “You have no idea how involved this is until you’re thrown in to your first job.”


Although his first job as head groundskeeper has come far sooner than he had expected, Barry’s first two years with the Legends have been a crash course in managing cool-season turf through, at times, severe summer conditions and a load of traffic stress that includes not only the Legends 70-game home schedule but an additional 50-70 events per year, including high school games and tournaments and the bane of many sports field managers – concerts.


In fact, it was a concert over the Independence Day weekend that delivered a knockout blow to the Kentucky bluegrass field at Whitaker Bank Ballpark and reinforced Barry’s quest to resurface the field with a more stress-tolerant variety of Bermudagrass.


“It was a total kill,” Barry said.


The Legends are finishing the season on ryegrass because of its ability to germinate rapidly. But once the season is finished, the turf will be sprayed out, a new Hunter irrigation system installed and the stadium’s Portafloor system will go back down for one more concert in October. When that is finished, Northbridge Bermudagrass sod that has been pre-overseeded by Barry personally, will arrive from Greenfield Turf Farm in Missouri. It is the same turf and the same supplier the Royals use at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City.


Barry’s colleagues in Kansas City told him that when they turfed the field with Northbridge, the sod rooted within three days and the seams were gone in a week.


On this day, Barry is scrambling to get out of town for a drive to Missouri for his first look at Northbridge. He will return in September to apply the overseed himself to ensure he gets the rate and coverage he wants in that all-important first year.


Growing up in his native Montpelier, Ohio, a tiny town in the state’s northwest corner that he says is as close as you can get to both Indiana and Michigan without leaving the state, Barry spent a lot of time playing baseball and taking care of the fields that he and other kids in town played on.


He parlayed that interest into a part-time job with the parks and rec department. It wasn’t long before he realized that a career in turf was in the cards.


“I liked working with grass, but at that time I didn’t know if baseball was what I was going to do, or golf or football,” he said. “I happened to land in baseball, and I’ve loved it ever since.”


Landing a job as a head groundskeeper in the minors is the result of major league preparation program that included an internship with the New York Mets and their Class A New York-Penn League affiliate Brooklyn Cyclones as well as a stint at Hyde Park Country Club in Cincinnati where Barry says he learned about all there is to know about weeds and turf diseases from superintendent Pat O’Brien.


He also discovered that although he learned a lot from O’Brien and that a background in golf prepared him for just about any challenges he might encounter in turf management, working on a golf course was not in his best interest.


“I didn’t like being at work at 5:30 in the morning. I’m just not a morning person,” Barry said. “I liked being off at 2:30 and making all the happy hours, but it just wasn’t worth it.”


With about two months left until graduation from Wilmington, Barry landed a job as the assistant groundskeeper for the Dayton Dragons, a Class A Midwest League affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds. To this day, he says groundskeeper Dan Jennings and his staff produce playing conditions that rival any stadium of any level anywhere.


What he learned under Jennings has helped him through challenges presented by events such as the six-day Kentucky High School Athletic Association state championship tournament, stray prep games and a two-day tournament for the state’s smallest high schools.


This year’s state tournament was sandwiched in between two Legends homestands, which meant 28 games in 20 days for Barry.


Areas that normally show wear during everyday play, like the batters box, on-deck areas and in front of the pitcher mounds, take an incredible beating during such a stretch. Barry and his assistant, James Nelson, a senior in the University of Kentucky turfgrass management program, constantly are conducting post-game triage to those areas, and conduct more in-depth repairs, including checking rise and run on the mound, when the Legends take to the road.


In his first year on the job, Barry was zeroed in on the turf. With an offseason makeover on the horizon, he has been able to shift his attention toward the skinned areas and warning track to ensure his sand, clay, silt mix is where it should be.


Barry inherited a field with about 40 percent clay. He’s like to get that number down to 22-25, and is at about 30 this season, which still can be a bit wet.


Although well on his way to the top, Barry still has quite a few colleagues on his speed dial for those moments when he has more questions than answers.


That list includes Andy Rock of the Savannah Sand Gnats, a SAL rival of the Legends, Brooklyn’s Kevin Ponte, Jennings and Keith Winter of the Fort Wayne Tin Caps, a Midwest League affiliate of the San Diego Padres.


“That’s the good thing about this business; everyone really stays connected,” Barry said. “I have a lot of guys I can go to if there is something I haven’t seen before. And if you are seeing a problem, chances are someone else has seen it as well.”


John Reitman wrote this story for the TurfNetSports.com, where it originally appeared. It is republished with permission

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