Aug. 30, 2012
When most people think of turf management and grounds keeping, they think all the workers do is cut and water grass.
Todd Tribble disagrees, and he has the experience and results to prove it.
Tribble, OSU's athletic field superintendent, oversees maintenance of all of OSU's outdoor athletic venues. He graduated from Clemson University in 2005 with a degree in turf management, then worked in the field maintenance department at Georgia Tech University from 2005-08 before arriving in Stillwater.
Tribble said most of the work he and his crew do is behind the scenes, but that doesn't bother him.
"A running joke turf managers have is everyone thinks we just mow and water grass," Tribble said. "I doubt people realize that for a 6:30 p.m. (baseball) game we start at 8 a.m. and do as much as we can until about 3:15 p.m. Between taking care of the edges on the infield to prevent bad hops, keeping the warning track from getting too dusty and mowing for two hours every day, it can be quite a bit. People probably come to a game and see us out there 30 minutes before the game chalking and watering and think that's the extent of our work day."
In 2008, his last year at Georgia Tech, Tribble had a situation in which he needed to get innovative and do far more than mow and water. It taught him lessons that impact how he does his job today.
The Atlanta area was in a severe drought and there were heavy water restrictions within the city prohibiting outdoor watering of any sort, meaning Tribble was not allowed to irrigate the baseball field at Russ Chandler Stadium. Tribble said the restrictions were unlike anything he had ever seen.
"There were 100 percent watering restrictions in Atlanta," Tribble said. "At one point, I kid you not, you couldn't eat at a restaurant and get free water. You had to pay for tap water. It was serious."
Of course without the water, the grass would die, so a solution had to be found quickly. Tribble and his team knew of a spring that ran underneath the football stadium that they could get to, but weren't sure how to extract the water and transport it to the baseball field.
"That was a water source that my bosses knew about, but we never had to tap into it," Tribble said. "We were able to redirect the water into these huge tanks. I want to say they were 1,500-gallon holding tanks. From there we pumped it into a spray rig, and we were able to water the grass."
Of course during pregame preparations, fans saw Tribble's crew watering the field, which raised some eyebrows.
"When we were watering the infield, we would plug our rig into the underground system, and people thought we were watering with city water. From time to time people would ask if we were using city water, but we told them it was basically waste water. Whether or not they believed us, it might have been a different deal."
Tribble and his crew's work did not go unnoticed.
Tribble and his colleague, Jon Dewitt, won the 2008 Sports Turf Managers Association Field of the Year Award for their efforts.
However, that season was part of the reason Tribble left Atlanta and came to Stillwater.
"The amount of work that created was astronomical," Tribble said. "Instead of flipping a switch and having the water come on, you were out there hand watering. It was a nightmare. I worked about 80 hours a week. It was literally my life. I would get up and go to work, then come home at 10:00 p.m. That's what I did for four months that year."
Although Tribble didn't exactly enjoy that experience, he said it helped him in many different ways.
"The best part that I got out of the drought was being able to visually look at the grass and determine what needs water," Tribble said. "If you have access to water 24/7, I could go into the office and say, `I don't know if the grass needs water or not, but I'm going to set it up to run tonight.' In Atlanta, you weren't going to water unless it absolutely needed it. Going through something like that helps you conserve water and be more efficient. That was not an experience I ever want to go through again. It was a bad dream."
Even with the change of scenery to Stillwater, Tribble said one thing remained constant -- his most hectic season is spring, where he works with his eight student workers for an average of 75 hours a week doing maintenance on the baseball and softball fields.
During the spring, there are weeks when the baseball and softball teams have long homestands. In those cases, Tribble and his crew stay busy.
"Without a doubt, the baseball and softball fields take the most work," Tribble said. "During baseball season, we'll usually show up to work about 8 a.m., and if we have a night game, we won't usually leave until about 10:30 p.m. All the pregame stuff is when we're busiest. When the field is in use, our job is pretty much done."
Having to handle back-to-back games is another cause for stress, and time is short to prepare the field between those games. Tribble said plenty of work goes into that preparation.
"Those fields take so much effort because we have to make sure the field is in good shape for our players," Tribble said. "We have to make sure the clay is watered several times a day, and it plays well. It's a lot of work to keep them in good shape."
In collegiate and professional stadiums, the outfield grass will usually have a complex design mowed into the grass. Tribble said the process isn't as complicated as one might think.
"The mowing patterns are all fairly easy," Tribble said. "Each mower has a roller on it, and those rollers actually create the designs. You usually see two different shades of green on the grass. If the track is a lighter green, it means the track was mowed away from where the viewers sit. A darker green indicates the track was mowed toward the viewers."
Tribble said he and his crew have mowed more complex designs during his time at OSU.
"We have done some more intricate designs in the past," Tribble said. "Those can take quite a bit of time. Getting those lines straight is a little more difficult. You have to lay out the design with strings in the grass, but once you do it once, you don't have to go back with the strings. Some patterns can be time consuming so we try not to get too crazy because there are other fields on campus to take care of."
There are other fields to take care of, but most of the time spent with Tribble was spent discussing the baseball field. Even in the offseason, Tribble said he looks forward to spring, despite it being his busiest time.
"Baseball is my background," Tribble said. "When I was in college, I did internships in pro ball. My first job out of college was strictly the baseball field at Georgia Tech. That's not to say I don't enjoy going over to the soccer or softball fields, but I'm a baseball guy."
There are some surfaces at OSU that don't need to be watered or mowed. For instance, the surface at Boone Pickens Stadium is artificial field turf, which is synthetic grass with rubber particles underneath. Tribble said the preparation changes with synthetic field turf, but the process is easier than what it would be with real grass.
"The football field definitely takes less maintenance than the others," Tribble said. "We don't have to paint logos or end zones; those are stitched into the turf. We go into the stadium Friday night before a game and sweep the field for trash, and we disinfect it to keep the players safe and prevent Staph infection. It isn't labor-intensive at all."
Not all of OSU's football fields are so easy to maintain. The practice field east of the Gallagher-Iba Arena gets mauled under the foot traffic of more than 100 people every day during August practices.
"With that field, we're holding on for dear life," Tribble said. "It goes through the most wear and tear. They're on it twice a day, and they're relegated to only having one field. That field takes man power and we're pretty thin right now. Once we make it to the Savannah State game, it'll get better."
The man power Tribble spoke of is pretty staggering when you look at the numbers.
"It's not like baseball where we have to work nights, but we paint that field three times a week," Tribble said. "It takes six people to do it in about two hours and we use 17 gallons of paint each time. We burn through paint like nobody's business. Those fields get absolutely destroyed."
One of Tribble's student workers is Cody Anderson, who has a marketing degree from OSU and is finishing a turf management degree. Anderson has worked for Tribble for more than 3 years. Anderson said in a normal school week the students will work for about 20 hours, but in the summer, they will push 40 hours per week. Anderson agreed with Tribble that baseball is the most intense season.
"We do a few things after baseball games like general cleanup," Anderson said. "Most game preparation tasks will wait until the morning of that game. Jobs like chalking the lines and general field preparation are done close to game time."
Nolan Savage, a business sophomore, has worked for Tribble since June 2011, where he was able to work those extra summer hours. Although Savage is majoring in business, working in turf management has him slightly adjusting his career plan.
"I don't really want a degree in turf," Savage said. "However, I would like to be able to apply my business degree to something related to turf. Maybe a representative for a company that sells turf."
Savage said Tribble always pays attention to detail, especially when an OSU team is playing well. Savage said Tribble wants to make sure the team's field looks good, especially if the game is on TV.
"(Tribble) will crack down on you if it isn't looking right," Savage said. "He wants to make sure things are done right."
Over the past few years, the OSU Soccer team has done nothing but play well. The Cowgirls kicked off their season this week with a preseason ranking of No. 5 and are looking to build off last year's campaign, where they completed a perfect regular season and a return trip to the Elite 8 in the NCAA Tournament. Last year's senior class set a school record for wins, and this year's team has at least two matches that will be broadcast on national television this year.
Tribble said it's awesome when teams are doing well, but he doesn't need extra motivation to put 100 percent effort into his job.
"We try to feel like we do the best job we can every single day," Tribble said. "If a team goes on a winning streak, you can't really force the grass to do something you haven't been doing previously. We prep the same whether it's a winning streak or a losing streak."
During the fall sports, Tribble said he works about 45 hours per week compared to the 75 per week he works in the spring. So, even when Tribble and his crew are not in their "busy season," he is still putting in five more hours per week than the average work week.