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Jake Tyler’s route to become a groundskeeper certainly was unusual.
“I was selling tools at Sears as my summer job in high school, and a guy that worked with me was a golf course grounds superintendent,” Tyler said. “In the summer of 1997 the West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx [baseball team] was created [in my hometown], and he got the job as head groundskeeper.
“I thought, ‘That job has to be more fun than working in a store,’ and I decided to ask him for a job. He gave me a bucket of clay and a tamp, and I never left.”
The day Tyler graduated from high school in 1998, he became the head groundskeeper for the Diamond Jaxx. It’s a profession Tyler has never left — and has grown to love as he comes to the close of his tenth season as the sports turf manager at Fifth Third Field.
Tyler spent three seasons with West Tennessee, then became the assistant groundskeeper for Louisville for two years. In 2002 he took the lead job for the Binghamton Mets and spent three seasons there before taking over the top spot for the Mud Hens before the 2005 season.
That experience taught Tyler that the groundkeeper’s job is much more than just cutting the grass.
“There’s a lot that goes into a baseball field, and I know the grass is what everybody sees,” Tyler said.
“But [taking care of] the dirt is 90 percent of the job, and takes up 90 percent of the day.”
The “dirt” Tyler mentions includes the “skin” of the infield — basically the area between first and third base — as well as home plate and the pitchers mound, the two bullpen mounds, and the warning track that circles Fifth Third Field.
“I get to the ballpark around 6:30 in the morning, and the crew gets here around 8,” Tyler said. “That gives me an hour and a half to walk the field, notice inconsistencies, and get a game plan for the day.
“We work the dirt for roughly two hours while one guy mows the outfield. Then we get moisture on the dirt and warning track so it’s not hard and not dusty. Then the team comes out and starts [batting practice]. …
“When that’s done, we have roughly an hour to get the field cleaned up and ready for the game.”
The game sees Tyler and the grounds crew manicure the infield at least three times, and once the contest ends he and his staff work roughly two hours to get the field ready for the next day.
It’s a job Tyler has done extremely well. Players and managers annually rave about his work, and he was named sports turf manager of the year in the International League three straight years from 2005-07.
That’s not why Tyler loves his job.
“It’s a long day, but I like the instant gratification,” he said. “Every day we try to make the field look brand-new. At the end of the day, when it looks good, it’s instant gratification.”
He’s also quick to point out that his grounds crew, which includes assistant Cory Myers and a number of full- and part-time helpers, play a key role in the good look of the field.
“If one person did all that, you would work yourself into the ground — and you wouldn’t be very proficient at it,” Tyler said. “There’s nothing better than having a No. 2 guy you can depend on and have confidence in.
“Cory Myers started with me as a game-day guy, and he has been an awesome asset to our department ever since he has been here.”
Ironically, for a guy who spends so much time working on the ground, Tyler likes to spend his free time in the air, flying hot-air balloons.
“It’s something different, and that keeps it exciting,” Tyler said. “As soon as you go up in a hot-air balloon for the first time — and experience the silence of it, and the feel of it — it’s addicting.
“You get up there, and you feel the serenity. It’s so quiet and peaceful and calm.”
AT THE PLATE: Jake Tyler
■ Position: Sports Turf Manager.
■ Ht./ Wt.: 6-0/ 170.
■ Hometown: Jackson, Tenn.
■ Age: 34.
■ Family: Wife Jessica; daughters Riley, 11, and Reagan, 8; son Cannon, 5.
■ Nickname: I was called Jacob growing up, but when I got into baseball I became Jake.
■ Favorite way to spend time away from the field: Ballooning.
■ Baseball player you admired growing up: I didn’t watch baseball.
■ Favorite sport other than baseball: College football. My favorite team is Tennessee.
■ Favorite music: ’80s rock. My favorite band is Poison.
■ Favorite food: Any seafood.
■ Favorite beverage: Sweet tea.
■ Favorite movie: Caddyshack. I put the movie on a cassette tape and listened to it for three years. I can recite it from beginning to end.
■ Favorite TV show: Dukes of Hazzard.
■ Person you most admire: My mom, Suzannah. Once my dad passed away, she reared four kids by herself and put herself through college at the same time.
■ If you could meet any person, who would it be? My great, great granddad. I don’t know any of them, and I think it would be neat to meet one and learn about him and my family.
■ Top sports moment: When Peyton Manning decided to attend Tennessee and not Ole Miss.
■ Baseball superstitions: I never talk about the length of a game, especially if it’s going fast. And I never like hearing [Mud Hens broadcaster] Jim Weber talking about rain.
■ Something nobody knows about you: I’m not a baseball fan. I just love taking care of a baseball field.