In December of 2023, the LMCU Ballpark, home of the minor league professional baseball team, the West Michigan Whitecaps, was recognized as the SFMA Field of the Year in the professional baseball division. This marked the second award the field had won from the SFMA since its head groundskeeper’s tenure started eight years ago. 

We recently had the pleasure of speaking with the head groundskeeper of the LMCU Ballpark, Mitch Hooten, to learn more about what it takes to maintain an award-winning field.

Mitch Hooten
Mitch Hooten, Head Groundskeeper of the LMCU Ballpark

Unsurprisingly, Hooten points out that having a committed crew is the cornerstone of maintaining an award-winning field. 

“Without a committed grounds crew, achieving a safe and playable field, let alone one worthy of awards, is simply impossible,” Hooten said. 

And Hooten would know. Since the LMCU ballpark is labeled as a multi-use facility, Hooten’s crew is responsible for maintaining the field not only during the more than 60 games played on it but also after events like concerts, corporate picnics, high school games, and award banquets that can quickly make it hard to play on. 

On top of that, Hooten and his crew have been contending with an aging field whose drainage system is less effective than it once was. The decreased effectiveness has led the crew to take on additional maintenance tasks, like more frequent aerification and fungicide applications, to ensure the field remains safe, playable, and visually pleasing. 

 “My crew already puts in a great amount of effort to keep the field in top shape with everything that happens on it,” Hooten said. “However, given the challenges posed by its drainage system, they are stepping up their efforts even further to ensure the field remains playable, safe, and aesthetically pleasing.” 

He adds, “The field couldn’t win any awards without them.” 

Clearly, Hooten and his team know what they are doing when it comes to field maintenance. Yet, Hooten acknowledges that another critical aspect of creating an award-winning field is surrounding yourself with experienced, knowledgeable individuals from the industry. He frequently asks questions and bounces ideas off of his Advanced Turf Solutions sales reps and friends, Brad Fry and Steve Lord. They do not hesitate to tell him how they think his ideas will turn out.  

“I’m constantly blowing up Steve and Brad’s phone,” Hooten said. “We talk during the season. Steve will answer my turf question of the week, as we call it, and I bounce ideas off both.”

He continued, “I can ask them how I want to do something, and they will honestly tell me if I should or shouldn’t do it that way. They also like to know how it goes. It’s been a great working relationship with those two. It’s essential to find people you can depend on.”   

According to Hooten, the last piece of the puzzle to creating an award-winning field is using products that will yield the desired results. What does he reach for to get those results? Foliar-Pak and HydroPak products.

Hooten and Foliar-Pak have a longstanding relationship. He has utilized various Foliar-Pak products, including Armament P, Armament K, Grow-In, CSi L, and Gold Standard. Hooten was using Foliar-Pak products when his field first received the Field of the Year award in 2019, and he appreciates their consistent performance over time.

“We use a ton of Foliar-Pak products,” Hooten said. “And they have made life a lot easier when it comes to the foliar sprays on the grass.” 

 He added, “When I spray Foliar-Pak products, I know I will get great results every time. Consistency, especially in professional baseball, is a huge thing. You don’t want your field changing much from week to week. You want it to play the same.”

While Hooten has not used HydroPak products for as long as the Foliar-Pak products, his current drainage problem has him using Aqueous and Percolate frequently. 

“Because our drainage system isn’t working properly, we can’t get water to go anywhere,” Hooten said. “One spot in our field may stay wet, and another spot may be drier than most. Aqueous and Percolate help us achieve consistency across our entire field, so if we didn’t use them, I can only imagine the struggle we would be facing.”

Our conversation with Hooten offered valuable insights into the work and dedication required to achieve an SFMA Field of the Year honor. We want to congratulate Hooten and his team on their well-deserved success and look forward to their continued achievements.

*Hooten extends his heartfelt thanks and appreciation to Logan Complo, George Cutler, Rick Krampe, Kent Bollinger, Tristin Ziola, and Carson Jarecki for their exceptional contributions throughout the season.