When the Atlanta Braves take the field for spring training games at their dazzling new CoolToday Park in North Port, Matt Taylor has a seat money cannot buy—right next to the coaches and players in the Braves dugout. But Taylor is no fan. As the ballpark’s head groundskeeper, he is so absorbed scrutinizing the field, checking weather radar and managing his team of 18 that he often doesn’t know which team is winning.
“These are the best players in the world, and the field has to be, too,” Taylor says, wiping his brow under a straw hat adorned with a large ‘A’ above the brim. “If it’s not, the fans and the players will let you know. I once had someone complain over a brown spot of grass in the outfield the size of a 50-cent piece.”
Taylor got his start 30 years ago working at the Kansas City Royals spring training facility in Orlando. Five times he has been named the best groundskeeper in the Southern League. Although he has been called up to work in the Major Leagues, including during the World Series, he says he prefers the minor leagues’ “laid-back” vibe and has relished developing relationships with young players such as Chipper Jones, who go on to become superstars.
Taylor’s crew keeps the Bermuda grass a lustrous green (“I have a secret potion,” he says) and trimmed to half an inch. An even bigger challenge, he says, is maintaining the base paths and the pitching mound, both made of clay. The clay on the base paths is four inches deep and must provide traction, a smooth surface for sliding players and no bumps or clumps, which could cause a ball to take a bad hop. “A bad hop is every groundskeeper’s worst nightmare,” Taylor says, “because it means the condition of the playing field affected the game.”
On game days, his crew starts at 6 a.m. and sometimes does not finish until late into the evening. “Never wanted another job,” he says. “If I wasn’t married, I’d pull a camper up to the stadium so I could be here 24-7.”