Nicole McFadyen grew up with baseball. She cheered for the Philadelphia Phillies — as did many in her Delaware home town — and played softball through high school.
“I definitely always loved the game,” McFadyen said. “But I never really thought there was a career in that.”
McFadyen, who’s now 36, spends most days at the ballpark as the Baltimore Orioles’ head groundskeeper. She — along with Washington Nationals doctor Wiemi Douoguih and baseball writer Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post — all have jobs that are connected to baseball but don’t require them to face 95-miles-per-hour fastballs.
McFadyen’s office at Oriole Park at Camden Yards has an unusual view. She looks out at right field, but not from high above. She could step onto the field if her window opened.
During games, McFadyen sits there checking the field, the sky and radar images on her computer.
“I need to understand weather patterns for the safety of the fans, players and my crew,” she said on a recent morning in Baltimore, Md.
But McFadyen’s job is more than pulling out tarps during a rain delay or raking the clay near the pitcher’s mound. Her crew of 26 handles those duties. McFadyen is responsible for keeping the grass field safe and playable — but also looking good.
There’s a science to it. It’s called turfgrass science.
McFadyen’s college degree is in agriculture, but she said the classes about grass fascinated her.
“Most of the jobs were geared to golf courses,” she said.
But when she traveled to Atlanta for a Phillies’ away game, McFadyen got her first look at a major league stadium with a grass field. (The Phillies’ home field had AstroTurf.) That trip, and one to Camden Yards to see the drainage system, caused her to consider baseball as career.
While still in college at the University of Delaware, she joined the Orioles as an intern and then an assistant groundskeeper. After college, McFadyen left to be head groundskeeper for a minor-league team. Three years later she came back to the Orioles as head groundskeeper, one of only two women to hold that job in Major League Baseball.
McFadyen says her biggest challenge is the weather.
“We can get extremely cold and extremely hot,” she said. “Too much of anything can really hurt you.”
Also challenging are the long hours. On game days, McFadyen said she’s at the stadium from 9 a.m. until about 1½ hours after the final out. (That could be 14 hours later.)
But even at the end of the night, McFadyen said she still loves her job. “You get to walk away from something that you created.”
As a little leaguer, Adam Kilgore had his sights set on a playing baseball professionally. But by middle school, he had a different idea.
“I was telling my teachers I would be on the Sports Illustrated cover — but as the writer,” Kilgore said recently.
While in high school, Kilgore got an opportunity that would eventually lead to his job covering the Nationals for The Washington Post. He landed a sports reporting job at a weekly newspaper in his home town of Cape Neddick, Maine. From there he headed to Syracuse University’s journalism school, where he wrote for the student newspaper. Internships paved the way to full-time sportswriting jobs, first at the Boston Globe and then in 2010 at The Post.
As a sports reporter, Kilgore, 30, can’t cheer for a team. That includes his childhood favorite, the Boston Red Sox. He said that transition from fan to reporter never bothered him. “It felt normal not to be a fan,” Kilgore said. “But I’m still a fan of the actual sport.”
One of his favorite parts of the job is the amount of time he gets to spend with the players. He said that reporters covering baseball typically get much more access to the players than football reporters do.
“You get a really rich understanding of what it’s like for people to do their job,” he said.
But baseball writers also have to cover a lot of games — 162 in the regular season. Kilgore said that during his first two years writing about the Nationals, he probably covered 155 away games plus six weeks of spring training in Florida.
“The travel disrupts your life quite a bit,” he said. “It’s definitely exhausting, but it’s also a cool thing. You get to see other cities.”
When the Nationals play at home, Kilgore’s day starts with blog posts and phone calls. By early afternoon, he heads to Nationals Park, where he can talk to players before batting practice. He attend a news conference, if there is one, and then heads to the press box to write more blog posts. By about the third inning, he begins writing the game story. There’s a tight deadline to get the story into the morning paper.
“Within five minutes of the game ending, I have to have my story in,” Kilgore said.
Writing so quickly might seem stressful, but Kilgore said it’s something reporters get used to.
“In the middle of the season it doesn’t seem so hard,” he said.
Kilgore isn’t sure whether he will cover baseball for his entire career, but he hasn’t gotten tired of the game. He said it provides two ingredients of great storytelling: “There’s good drama, and there’s a lot of action.”
The team doctor
A young Wiemi Douoguih loved sports, but baseball wasn’t his passion.
“I was a baseball fan as every kid is. I had boyhood stars like Reggie Jackson and Willie Randolph,” said Douoguih, referring to his favorite New York Yankees. “But I didn’t play much baseball.”
His sport was lacrosse. He went to college on a lacrosse scholarship but said he knew he wasn’t going to make a career out of it. Douoguih decided to study medicine. Sports medicine.
“It’s one of those things. I didn’t necessarily plan on doing baseball,” Douoguih said by phone on his way to spring training. “I found myself very qualified to treat baseball athletes.”
The qualifications partly came from training with Frank Jobe, a doctor who pioneered an elbow surgery that has been used on many pitchers.
Douoguih was head of the sports medicine practice at Medstar Washington Hospital Center when the Washington Nationals named him team medical director in 2008.
Unlike other orthopaedic surgeons, Douoguih talks to coaches, managers and reporters in addition to his patients’ families. He has operated on first baseman Adam LaRoche and pitchers Drew Storen and Stephen Strasburg.
“There’s no question that there’s pressure in this environment,” he said. “It forces you to stay up on the latest trends.”
Players come to his office, but he also goes to Nationals Park. He said he probably attends 60 to 65 games each season. But he’s not there to cheer on the team.
“When I’m at the game, I’m working,” Douoguih said.
That might mean examining a player who has just gotten hurt.
“Trainers do the triage,” he said, meaning the first look at the injury. “If they feel it’s serious enough, they come to me.”
Douoguih said he loves the challenges of his job. He also loves exposing his three kids to what happens behind the scenes in professional sports.
“They get a realistic sense of what it’s like to be an athlete,” he said.