From Williamsport to K.C.: World Series are nothing new for turfgrass student

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- When TV coverage of the World Series begins tonight (Oct. 21), the first thing most viewers will notice is the immense crown cut into the centerfield grass of the Kansas City Royals' Kauffman Stadium. What they won't see is that there was a little bit of Penn State skill used in crafting that image, thanks to a member of the Royals grounds crew.

Evan Fowler, a junior turfgrass science major from Franklin, now lives in Kansas City while he finishes his degree online through Penn State's World Campus. He landed a job on the Royals' grounds crew after completing an internship with the organization.

How he got the opportunity to intern at the top level of professional sports is a story in itself, related to his impressive pedigree in baseball field caretaking in Pennsylvania.

Evan's grandfather, Don Fowler, a retired Penn State Extension educator who founded the Keystone Athletic Field Managers Organization, and his father, Jeffrey Fowler, an extension district director and turfgrass educator, long have been involved in the upkeep and preparation of the Little League World Series Complex fields in Williamsport.

Fowlers at Williamsport

Jeff, Evan and Don Fowler at this year's Little League World Series

Image: Courtesy Sports Turf Managers Association

From an early age, Evan -- who turned out to be a talented baseball player in his own right -- helped with groundskeeping at the Little League World Series, which was a labor of love for his family.

"For me, it definitely all started at the Little League World Series. I went to my first one when I was 3, and we have a photo of me with a rake in my hand," he said.

"From then on, it was following my dad around doing extension work with turfgrass at all the different stadiums and golf courses, and I learned a lot about the industry and where I might best fit in. This unique opportunity to follow in the footsteps of my father and grandfather has been awesome. They are really proud that I picked up where they left off and am now working in Major League Baseball."

Evan was offered the grounds crew internship with the Royals organization during a trip four years ago to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, with his father and grandfather, while he was still in high school. While there, Evan met the chief of the Royals grounds crew, Trevor Vance, who was impressed by Evan's work ethic, career plans and early baseball field caretaking experience and savvy.

When it came time to pick a university to pursue his passion, there was no doubt in Evan's mind where to go. "The turfgrass science program in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences is second to none," he said. "Graduates of the program are working in and often directing crews at professional baseball, football and soccer stadiums and top-notch golf courses all over the world," he said.

"Penn State was a perfect fit for my ambitions."

Part of the largest turfgrass program in the nation, the Turfgrass Science major focuses on the principles and practices of turfgrass establishment, management and production for aesthetic, recreational and conservation purposes. Turfgrass varieties bred by Penn State researchers are found on 90 percent of the world's golf courses, so it is said that the sun never sets on Penn State turfgrass.

The program also houses the Center for Sports Surface Research, which provides science-based recommendations for turf managers in the National Football League, Major League Baseball and other organizations.

Major League Baseball grounds crews are busy during the regular season, almost daily repairing the pitcher's mound, batters boxes and infield dirt, chalking lines and regularly mowing, spraying herbicides and fertilizers on the turf, and much more. But, Evan noted, when it comes to the postseason, the job becomes more demanding.

Extra duties include painting American League Championship and World Series logos on the field and accomplishing special effects, such as the aforementioned crown in the outfield.

You might think the grounds crew will welcome the end. But not necessarily, according to Evan. "If it takes seven games to win, and they have to come back to Kauffman Stadium and Kansas City to get it done, we want the work," he said.

"We can't take this for granted because you never know when this might happen again -- Kansas City has had a 29-year dry spell with the World Series. This town is electric right now. It's exciting, so we groundskeepers won't mind if it extends a few more games."

To learn more about Penn State turfgrass research, extension and educational programs, visit the Center for Turfgrass Science website.

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Last Updated October 31, 2014