Greater Nevada Field groundskeeper Leah Withrow is one of a kind.
Her profession is unknown to most fans, but she is the only female fields operation assistant in all of Triple-A baseball.
“Like most people, I had no idea it even existed,” she said. “Most people don’t even know it exists. But I can ensure that every major and minor league baseball park has a trained person in this field.”
Withrow, 23, will hold the record for now, but she hopes her hard work can pave the way for the future of female groundskeepers.
“I hope one day it’s not an abnormality,” she said. “I hope it’s the norm and it’s not weird. … Hopefully a little girl in the stands sees me and thinks ‘she’s out there on the baseball field, so why can’t I be?’ ”
Since she was hired on as a full-time assistant groundskeeper in January, Withrow has made sure Greater Nevada Field is picture perfect for upcoming Reno Aces and Reno 1868 FC games.
Withrow and the rest of the crew arrive at the ballpark at 9 a.m. each day to patch the clay on the pitching mound, inside the bullpen and home plate. When the clay has settled, the rest of the leftover dirt is swept, cleaned and dressed to look pretty. From there, groundskeepers skin and moisten the infield to make sure it’s soft and playable.
Once batting practice finishes, Withrow savors her job well done before she prepares the field for the upcoming Aces game.
“When the field is perfect, it’s just the best,” she said. “Before anyone steps on it, knowing you just spent the entire day prepping the field and getting everything ready. Then everything hits you, there are people in the stands, the smell of popcorn and it’s just the best feeling ever.”
When the Aces hit the road, the crew prepares the outfield for the Reno 1868 soccer club, a change of scenery — and sod — for Withrow.
“Once the sod is laid down, it’s way easier than baseball,” she said. “It’s sometimes enjoyable, and it’s something new for me.”
Withrow’s love for baseball began when she was young, growing up in Gardnerville, Nevada, just 49 miles away from Greater Nevada Field. There, she’d catch baseball games at her next door neighbor’s house.
“I had an older neighbor who I would go to growing up,” she said. “When my mom went somewhere, I’d go over to her house and she was a huge Red Sox fan. I used to sit and watch baseball with her when I was little so, that’s when I was exposed to it.”
Despite playing soccer at Douglas High School and baseball growing up, Withrow had her eyes set on a different career path in high school.
“I was originally going to be an engineer,” she said. “But I took calculus and said there’s no way I’m doing this four to five more years.”
Withrow attended North Dakota State University, which offered a degree in sports turfgrass management. With family back in Fargo, North Dakota, she found the best of both worlds.
“I wanted to tour NDSU to see what it was like,” she said. “I like the area and it’s a nice school. I was looking through their majors and sports turf management caught my eye. I loved sports and loved being outside so I was interested and made the decision that I wanted to do it.”
[pullquote]It’s a little nerve-racking. Every hop or step a player makes directly translates to the work we did that day. If the ball hops weird or a player misses the play, that’s on me.”[/pullquote]From her first class at Turf 101, Withrow was hooked. She learned the basics of groundskeeping and maintenance required to keep the playing field at its best. Some projects and assignments translated to the tasks with the Aces.
“We were going out and mowing and learning how to throw seed,” she said. “It’s all these different things we learned in the classes and I kept wanting to learn more. It was just fun, it’s kind of like some of the things I do here in Reno.”
Withrow gained big-league experience during her first two years in college. She landed a job as a season intern with the Triple-A Reno Aces and the Milwaukee Brewers by her sophomore year.
Gaining the experience only fed Withrow’s passion for taking care of the diamond.
“I fell even more in love with baseball,” she said. “I’m sitting here watching the game and I am getting paid to do it. It was awesome.”
With the Brewers, Withrow was introduced to quality control between the big-leagues and the minors.
“It’s a crazy difference,” she said. “It’s crazy the amount of detail and perfect everything has to be since everything is televised or on social media. So if it looks the slightest bit off, everyone will notice.”
Withrow graduated from NDSU with a bachelor’s of science degree in sports turfgrass management. Right out of college, she worked as the lead groundskeeper at Northern Arizona University.
In Flagstaff, Arizona, her expertise was spread around baseball, softball, soccer fields and every practice facility in the university. Withrow enjoyed the job, but returned to back to Reno.
“I liked it, but I missed the adrenaline of professional sports,” she said. “Collegiately, you’re taking care of every field they have. You’re more diverse instead of focusing on one ballpark and everything is seasonal.”
Now in a full-time position at Greater Nevada Field, she pays close attention to each Aces contest knowing her pre-game preparation can affect the outcome.
“It’s a little nerve-racking,” she said. “Every hop or step a player makes directly translates to the work we did that day. If the ball hops weird or a player misses the play, that’s on me.
“It drives me to be better, it keeps me motivated knowing that my drawn lines down first or third base can bring on a bunt and score a runner home.”
The grounds crew is influential to the Aces’ season, but its dedication seems to go unnoticed. By the time the thousands in attendance can enter the stadium one hour before the game, their day of labor is finished.
When the fans head for home, Withrow is prepping for the next home game.
“I wish more people understood it,” she said. “Even our front office people don’t completely understand the work that goes in. They may leave the night of a soccer game and come back in the office and it’s a baseball field, not knowing we were up all night making the switch.”
Similar to how the Aces’ big-league club, the Arizona Diamondbacks, option players back-and-forth, Withrow’s dream starts with her managing her own field in the lower levels of minor league baseball.
“Eventually I want to go down to Single-A or Double-A and be the head person there,” she said. “I can take care of my own field and I can work my way up to Triple-A and the Major Leagues.”
For now, Greater Nevada Field has become another home for her.
“I do miss some parts of the Midwest,” she said. “But the field here is like a second home to me. I spent more time here than anywhere else. … There’s other offices that aren’t like this. I like sports and being outside, so this is the best job in the world.”
— Isaiah Burrows