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River Bandits' head groundskeeper 1 of 4 women in professional baseball to hold title

Morgan Hunter is in charge of the team that tends to the pristine Kentucky bluegrass of the Quad Cities' Modern Woodmen Park.

DAVENPORT, Iowa — Before the players can take the field at Modern Woodmen Park, a handful of grounds crew members are hard at work manicuring the grass and grooming the infields. This year, that crew is led by Morgan Hunter, one of four women in all of professional baseball to currently hold the title of head groundskeeper.

Hunter started out as a groundskeeper for the Columbia Fireflies, the Single-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals, in 2021. The next season she was promoted to head groundskeeper before taking that position with the Quad Cities River Bandits in January of this year.

She first got interested in the career during her sophomore year of high school.

"I grew up around farming, and that's what I initially wanted to do was go into production ag, but I knew I wouldn't be able to start my own farm from the ground up," Hunter said. "I love sports and I love being outside and I grew up going to Busch Stadium. One day I was down there watching them get the field ready, and I just Googled on my phone, 'How do I work at the field at Busch Stadium?' It said sports turf and I didn't really look back."

Hunter got her degree in agronomy, studying things like the science behind different types of grasses. For instance, in Columbia, she was working with Bermuda 419, a type of warm-season grass. Here in the Quad Cities, the field is a cold-season Kentucky bluegrass.

With her promotion to head groundskeeper in Columbia, Hunter became just one of four women in professional baseball who currently hold the title. 

"There's two of us in the minor leagues right now, and there's two in the major league," she said. "So it's a pretty small, tight-knit community."

Heather Nabozny works for the Detroit Tigers and Nicole Sherry works for the Baltimore Orioles. Both started out as head groundskeepers for minor league teams. Leah Withrow is Hunter's Minor League Baseball counterpart for the Reno Aces, the Triple-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

There are other women who work on the ground's crews for teams, such as one young woman for the River Bandits, who just aren't the heads. 

"It's growing and that's a trend that we're continuously seeing, which is really nice," Hunter said. "There's a very small community of women in gold, too, so we're trying to get everybody together and kind of do events and stuff to raise awareness that like, hey, this is a career for anyone if you want to do it. It's a lot of hard work, but it's really fun."

Hunter hasn't gotten used to considering herself a role model for young girls interested in breaking into the sports industry.

"It's bizarre, honestly, like people will say, 'Oh, you know, you might inspire somebody,' or 'Girls look up to you,'" she said. "It's just weird because I still feel that way about some of my mentors in the industry. So it's weird to think that somebody may be looking up to me or using me as an example for choosing a career. But it's cool. And it's a lot of pressure, but it's really good pressure."

On game days, Hunter and her team work an average of 15 hours, getting the field ready before the game, taking care of it during the 3rd and 6th innings and again after the game. There are also lots of maintenance projects to work on when the Bandits are on the road.

"The weather is what throws a wrench in all of our plans, because we can have our whole season planned out to the day according to baseball games and extra events on the field, but that weather will come in and just throw all those plans right out the window," she said.

The biggest misconception people have about the work, Hunter said, is the amount of science that goes into it. Seeing the field during the games is what makes all that hard work pay off.

"When you're standing up there and you see the fans looking out at it, it's a cool feeling because you know that you put in the work to get the result that you want," Hunter said.

Her biggest advice to young girls is to just get involved and ask questions. Since the turf industry is so small, she said she has friends working all over the place she can call when she has a question. She recommends the job to anyone looking to find a career that blends a passion for sports and the outdoors.

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