During the pandemic, groundskeepers Adam Vecitis and Leah Withrow have climbed to the top of their professions in Minor League Baseball.
Covid-19 forced MiLB to cancel its 2020 season, but Vecitis and Withrow were promoted to management positions at Greater Nevada Field, home of the Triple-A Reno Aces.
Vecitis, 23, was promoted to manager of field maintenance and is the youngest groundskeeper in the Pacific Coast League. Withrow, 24, was promoted to manager of grounds operations, making her the only female head groundskeeper in Minor League Baseball.
Although the Aces’ year was put on hold, Reno 1868 FC is 10 games into the regular season with a chance to clinch a playoff spot. Home matches are held at Greater Nevada Field without fans, but the field is still picture-perfect for people watching from home.
“I had no idea if this field was going to see any sport this year,” Withrow said. “Once we got the announcement, we were right into the thick of things. It’s almost like coronavirus never happened for us.”
While their youth makes Vecitis and Withrow trailblazers at their professions, their work ethic and dedication to keep Greater Nevada Field in pristine playing condition each earned them a promotion.
Joe “Sodfather” Hill left Greater Nevada Field after serving five seasons as the director of groundskeeping, leaving Vecitis and Withrow with massive work boots to fill. They took the extra load during an unprecedented sports season. The hardships formed an unbreakable bond between them.
“It’s a lot of pressure, but we lean on each other for a lot of this, and I’m lucky to have someone with me,” Withrow said. “Having someone who is similar in age and experience helps us. … We will look back on this year and say ‘Hey do you remember that thing we did in Reno?’”
Whether it is putting down sod or mowing large areas of grass, Vecitis takes pride in making Greater Nevada Field a professional landscape.
“You want to make it playable before it looks pretty, and that’s the foundation of it all,” he said. “Once the field is to our standard, then we make it look nice for television and even for the fans that aren’t here.”
Vecitis is a year-and-half into his tenure since joining the organization in February of last season. He served as the assistant of field operations before his promotion to management this season.
The new position has more responsibility and tasks thrown his way, but Vecitits has appreciated the extra workload.
“I’ve had a lot more on my plate since last year, but I love it,” he said. “Managing a budget and taking care of the equipment are things I’ve never experienced last year. … I have a lot more accountability and I take pride in that.”
A native of Glendale, Wisconsin, Vecitis attended the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee without a plan in mind. He took a job at a golf course and learned some tricks of the trade. The simple routine of maintaining greens and fairways sparked his interest into bigger career opportunities.
“I’m technically a college dropout if you will,” he chuckled. “I realized I was studying sports management and had no idea what I really wanted to do, but I had a new school in mind. … I needed a job, so I reached out to a golf course to take care of things. I learned a lot from a friend, and it kind of started from there.”
Vecitis went to Michigan State University and graduated with a degree in sports turf management. He had his first taste of the big leagues as a seasonal grounds crew member with the Milwaukee Brewers from June 2015 to August 2016.
Growing up an avid Brewers fan, Vecitis savored every moment taking care of a MLB field.
“To get my start at a MLB field was extremely eye opening,” he said. “It was some of the most fun I’ve ever had. I learned a lot, got my ass kicked a few times. But it was very special, hopefully I can get back there.”
Vecitis interned with the Louisville Bats — Triple-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds — before becoming a groundskeeper in Reno.
The dual management promotions for Vecitis and Withrow have strengthened their friendship.
“We’re getting to know each other a lot better, even though we’ve been friends for quite some time now,” he said. “It’s a great work relationship and we take advantage of our youth. … This has boosted our resumés and it’s a stepping stone for bigger things down the road for us.”
He may have roots in the Midwest, but Vecitits has found a second home in the Biggest Little City. The youngest groundskeeper in the PCL has a bright future ahead of him, and he’s prepared to make the most of his opportunity.
“I absolutely love this city and there’s big things ahead,” he said. “My girlfriend and I love to visit new spots around town. … You kind of get whatever you want out here weather wise, so I like to call it close to home.”
While Vecitis adjusts to his new position, Withrow was pleasantly surprised to see professional sports return to Reno. Covid-19 put a cloud of doubt over any sports happening this year, but Reno 1868 began the regular season on July 19 with limitations in place.
Since Reno 1868 FC has returned to Greater Nevada Field, Withrow has gotten back to the swing of things. She and select crew members stayed busy during the statewide shutdown in March and April taking care of Greater Nevada Field. The entire country was on lockdown, but the field needed maintenance if future events took place.
“The grass doesn’t know about coronavirus,” she said. “It will still grow and need to be mowed and fertilized. With or without this virus, we needed to come in every day and make sure everything was in tip-top shape in case we were going to have soccer or baseball this year.”
Before her promotion to management, Withrow was already breaking barriers with the Aces last season as the only female assistant groundskeeper in Minor League Baseball. A native of Gardnerville, just 40 minutes south of Reno, Withrow’s grown to appreciate paving the way for females working in professional baseball.
“It’s been a different transition to now being the boss,” she said. “It’s a surreal feeling knowing I’m the only one, but it’s a responsibility to take care of my field. It hasn’t been easy, but we need to carry on Joe’s legacy, and I think we’ve accomplished that thus far.”
Withrow had future ambitions of managing her own field in the lower minor league levels such as Double-A or Single-A. Her promotion with Triple-A Reno has changed plans with a positive outlook.
Triple-A is just one step below the majors, a goal that Withrow has strived for since joining the Aces last season.
“I feel like I was playing chutes and ladders and I hit the ladder and went straight up,” she said. “I didn’t have to go down and work my way back up. I had produced enough quality work to take over this year, and that meant so much to me. It changes my future plans since I’m already here and I can work my way up.”
Vecitis and Withrow have built a path that no other groundskeeper their age has walked on. Both workers fulfill the duties and obligations of keeping a field in proper playing condition for a professional baseball team and Major League Soccer club.
If and when the Reno Aces return to Greater Nevada Field, the two transcendent groundskeeper managers will make sure it’s in the best playing condition possible.
“It’s kind of relaxing to a point but we miss it,” Vecitis said. “It’s definitely not as hectic and chaotic then it normally is. … Having a shortened season has its benefits, but we can’t wait for the Aces to potentially come back in 2021.”