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    ​Photo by Chris Witzke

    “When I was young,” Tom Nielsen says, “I didn’t know you could make a living taking care of a baseball field.” 

    Growing up in Wisconsin, Nielsen turned part of his family’s large yard into a baseball field. “Home-run fence, foul poles and everything,” he says. He earned an associate degree in horticulture at Gateway Technical College in Kenosha, Wisconsin; a class field trip to the Milwaukee Brewers’ stadium led to an interview and Nielsen’s first job as a groundskeeper. The 48-year-old has now been in the turf-management business for 26 years and has been head groundskeeper at Louisville Slugger Field since it opened in 2000. (Slugger Field, home to the Bats and the Louisville City FC soccer team, will host the ACC Baseball Championship May 23-28.)

    Nielsen calls Louisville a “transition zone,” meaning we have Southern-hot summers and cold winters like in the North. “This is the hardest place to grow grass in the country,” he says. “If you can grow it here, you can grow it anywhere.” He keeps a healthy field year-round by blending ryegrass, bluegrass and Bermuda grass. “The goal is to keep the grass as green as possible,” he says. Nielsen has won numerous awards from the Sports Turf Managers Association, essentially the Super Bowl for groundskeepers. His nickname is “the Sodfather.” 

    Nielsen mentions how one of his past assistants helped maintain the field at Wrigley during the Chicago Cubs’ World Series run last year. In fact, many groundskeepers throughout the country got their start with Nielsen. “They actually call me the Jobfather,” he says. 

    This originally appeared in the May 2017 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe to Louisville Magazine, click here. To find your very own copy of Louisville Magazine, click here. 

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