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Nicole McFadyen oversees a team of 26
seasonal crew members and nine regular
employees to maintain Oriole Park at Camden
Yard’s playing surface.
Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record
Nicole McFadyen oversees a team of 26 seasonal crew members and nine regular employees to maintain Oriole Park at Camden Yard’s playing surface. Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record

A League of Her Own

Nicole McFadyen is one of only two women head groundskeepers at Major League Baseball clubs.

Under the gaze of thousands of spectators, Nicole McFadyen goes about her job of getting Oriole Park at Camden Yards baseball-ready, riding on her tractor, raking the field or checking the pitcher’s mound.

It doesn’t escape McFadyen that many of those in the stands are young girls who may one day follow her footsteps.

“When children see a woman in that kind of role, I think it breaks down some of the barriers,” McFadyen said. “They get the idea that women can do a job that may not be known to them.”

The no-nonsense head groundskeeper at Oriole Park spends 12 to 14 hours at the park on game days. She was only the second woman head groundskeeper ever on a Major League team and is still one of only two currently in the league.

It is for her leadership in the field, innovative approach and her ability to create opportunities for other women that on March 10 she is receiving the Mary Young Pickersgill Award for Women’s Leadership in Business.

“She’s a fabulous person, and the more she is recognized for being that leader in the community, the more she does,” said Amanda Davis, executive director at The Star-Spangled Banner Flag House in Baltimore, whose board gives the award annually.

Love of science and baseball

McFadyen, 38, is entering her 10th season as head groundskeeper and has been featured in The New York Times, ESPN and other publications. She oversees maintenance on the field at Camden Yards, about two acres of property. She leads a team of 26 seasonal crew members and nine total regular employees to maintain the playing surface, dirt and pitching mound to perfection.

McFadyen has become an expert on Kentucky Bluegrass, which comprises 100 percent of the field. It thrives when the temperatures don’t exceed 85 degrees, so in Maryland’s hot summers it needs careful monitoring.

To do that, she draws on her agricultural degree from the University of Delaware. And she loves to speak to students about how she applies her science education every day.

“I tell them I studied science and you can take science to a whole different level than what is talked about in school, and have fun doing it,” she said.

Award inspired by Mary Pickersgill

The Flag House started giving the award in 2012 to women who are succeeding in business and using that success and their leadership skills to better the community. It was inspired by Mary Pickersgill, who sewed the famous flag that inspired The Star-Spangled Banner and was a successful businesswoman in the flagmaking trade. Later in her life, she was president of the Impartial Female Humane Society from 1828-1851 and was involved in such projects as care and housing for the elderly, help for poor and destitute women seeking employment and job training, and a successful push to raise wages for seamstresses in Baltimore City.

Davis said that The Flag House was inspired by McFadyen breaking into the field of groundskeeping and interjecting more interest in the profession, such as how she has hired three women interns since 2012.

Paving a career path

Originally from New Castle, Delaware, McFadyen toured Camden Yards as part of an irrigation course in college. In 2001, she had an internship with the Orioles and became an assistant groundskeeper. She then took a position as head groundskeeper for the Eastern League’s Trenton Thunder, a Double-A affiliate of the New York Yankees, until she returned to the Orioles in 2007 for her current post.

McFadyen and Heather Nabozny, who has been with the Detroit Tigers since 1999, are the only female head groundskeepers in Major League Baseball. There have been approximately 10 women who have held the position of head groundskeeper in the history of professional baseball, according to the Sports Turf Managers Association.

McFadyen strives to create a good playing space for both teams. But she does try to create as much home field advantage as possible, such as sculpting the mound with the home pitcher in mind. She interacts with the Orioles players as needed, but for the most part it’s a professional relationship.

It’s an amazing feeling when she sits back and looks up at the stadium during a game, she said.

“I know our crew has done the best we could to provide the best surface we could for the team and just try to enjoy the game,” she said. “It’s really satisfying to walk away from something you know you had a part of, even though it’s kind of behind the scenes.”

This article is featured in The Daily Record’s Path To Excellence: A Woman’s Guide To Business. The mission of the Path to Excellence magazine is to give our readers the opportunity to meet successful women of all ages, backgrounds and beliefs and learn how they define success. Read more from Path to Excellence.

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