Detroit Tigers’ head groundskeeper still gets nervous on Opening Day

Detroit Free Press

As you walk into Comerica Park a day before Opening Day, the loud roar of fans cheering, the sound of a bat making contact with the ball, and the typical baseball music are all missing; The only thing you hear is a loud motor running and water making contact with the pavement as an employee power washes an area of the stadium.

Dozens of employees work to prepare the stadium for the Detroit Tigers’ Opening Day against the Boston Red Sox. As others worry about the stadium, Heather Nabozny, the Detroit Tigers’ head groundskeeper for 25 seasons, and her crew prepare the field for playing time.

Alejandro Flores carries a stack of green cushions inside Comerica Park on Tuesday, April 4, 2023.
Alejandro Flores carries a stack of green cushions inside Comerica Park on Tuesday, April 4, 2023.
David Rodriguez Munoz, Detroit Free Press
Members of the grounds crew clean the outfield walls during Opening Day preparations inside Comerica Park on Wednesday, April 5, 2023.
Members of the grounds crew clean the outfield walls during Opening Day preparations inside Comerica Park on Wednesday, April 5, 2023.
David Rodriguez Munoz, Detroit Free Press
Marquise Pope, of Detroit, uses a pressure washer to clean the seat isles inside Comerica Park on Tuesday, April 4, 2023.
Marquise Pope, of Detroit, uses a pressure washer to clean the seat isles inside Comerica Park on Tuesday, April 4, 2023.
David Rodriguez Munoz, Detroit Free Press

In the field, the grounds crew dominates that realm. Nabozny, with the help of assistant groundskeeper Kyle Pickens, leads a team of eight ground crew members. Five are full-time and the three others are part-time.

“I’m proud of the crew for putting in the hours and making sure the field is right for Opening Day and through the season,” Nabozny said.

Kyle Pickens, assistant groundskeeper, helps push a giant tube inside Comerica Park on Tuesday, April 4, 2023.
Kyle Pickens, assistant groundskeeper, helps push a giant tube inside Comerica Park on Tuesday, April 4, 2023.
David Rodriguez Munoz, Detroit Free Press
Michael Pate measures an area for a stage he will build behind the outfield wall in Comerica Park during Opening Day preparations on Wednesday, April 5, 2023.
Michael Pate measures an area for a stage he will build behind the outfield wall in Comerica Park during Opening Day preparations on Wednesday, April 5, 2023.
David Rodriguez Munoz, Detroit Free Press

She has been the only head groundskeeper in the new stadium and did a year at the old stadium.

“For Opening Day, everyone is a little rusty from having the winter off,” Nabozny said. “Which makes it a little difficult to get the ball rolling, but once the season starts, we start going through the routine.”

Heather Nabozny, the head groundkeeper for the Detroit Tigers, walks on the field during the Detroit Tigers' Opening Day at Comerica Park in Detroit on Thursday, April 6, 2023.
Heather Nabozny, the head groundkeeper for the Detroit Tigers, walks on the field during the Detroit Tigers’ Opening Day at Comerica Park in Detroit on Thursday, April 6, 2023.
David Rodriguez Munoz, Detroit Free Press
Heather Nabozny, the head groundkeeper for the Detroit Tigers, waters the "skin," which refers to the infield soil, with members of her ground crew during the Detroit Tigers' Opening Day at Comerica Park in Detroit on Thursday, April 6, 2023.
Heather Nabozny, the head groundkeeper for the Detroit Tigers, waters the “skin,” which refers to the infield soil, with members of her ground crew during the Detroit Tigers’ Opening Day at Comerica Park in Detroit on Thursday, April 6, 2023.
David Rodriguez Munoz, Detroit Free Press
Heather Nabozny, the head groundkeeper for the Detroit Tigers, sits in her office during the Detroit Tigers' Opening Day at Comerica Park in Detroit on Thursday, April 6, 2023.
Heather Nabozny, the head groundkeeper for the Detroit Tigers, sits in her office during the Detroit Tigers’ Opening Day at Comerica Park in Detroit on Thursday, April 6, 2023.
David Rodriguez Munoz, Detroit Free Press

Nabozny and her grounds crew began preparing for Opening Day on March 6; in most seasons, depending on the weather, the grounds crew tends to start preparing anywhere in mid-March.

This year, the grounds crew focused on having the new outfield wall ready for the season; due to the lack of frost, they started the irrigation process sooner, charged the water lines, compacted the infield soil, recompacted the bullpen mounds, rolled the grass to press it back down, painted different parts of the field, mowed and fertilized the grass. Once they get closer to Opening Day, they start tarping the infield to protect the soil from the rain.

Over a dozen people work to prepare Comerica Park ahead of Opening Day on Tuesday, April 4, 2023.
Over a dozen people work to prepare Comerica Park ahead of Opening Day on Tuesday, April 4, 2023.
David Rodriguez Munoz, Detroit Free Press
A member of the grounds crew uses a shovel to pour dirt behind the outfield walls of Comerica Park during Opening Day preparations on Wednesday, April 5, 2023.
A member of the grounds crew uses a shovel to pour dirt behind the outfield walls of Comerica Park during Opening Day preparations on Wednesday, April 5, 2023.
David Rodriguez Munoz, Detroit Free Press

“There’s a lot of work behind the scene that goes into getting the field ready for Opening Day that you don’t see,” Pickens said. “People only see the final product but not the work that goes into it; everyone comes together to get the field ready. … You’re only as good as your crew; their hard work, attention to detail, and dedication make it all come together. We wouldn’t have been able to do any of this without our crew.”

Nabozny and her crew work on many jobs, the ones listed are just some of the many things they do to prepare the field for Opening Day.

Heather Nabozny, the head groundkeeper for the Detroit Tigers, looks out towards the field during the Detroit Tigers' Opening Day at Comerica Park in Detroit on Thursday, April 6, 2023.
Heather Nabozny, the head groundkeeper for the Detroit Tigers, looks out towards the field during the Detroit Tigers’ Opening Day at Comerica Park in Detroit on Thursday, April 6, 2023.
David Rodriguez Munoz, Detroit Free Press

As Opening Day results in a loss for the Tigers, Nazbony is preparing the field for the next game, ensuring it’s in top condition for them to perform at their best.

“If the field plays well and looks nice, it makes it all worth it,” Nazbony said. “We don’t like to see any bad hops and we just don’t want to see anything bad happen, so it’s kind of like pins and needles even though we’ve done it for a while; that’s why the Opening Day is special because I still always get nervous from it.”

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