The Major League Baseball groundskeepers are set to host their annual meetings in Los Angeles this weekend. Prior to the meetings, the late Gary Vanden Berg was selected as the latest inductee into the MLB Groundskeepers Hall of Fame. He will join previous inductees Emil Bossard (Indians), George Toma (Royals), Joe Mooney (Red Sox), Dick Ericson (Twins), Harry Gill (Brewers), Pete Flynn (Mets) and Pat Santarone (Orioles). Vanden Berg will be inducted this Sunday, January 24, at the DoubleTree in downtown Los Angeles.
Vanden Berg was a member of the Milwaukee Brewers organization for more than 30 years. Following a year-long battle with cancer, he passed away on October 10, 2011. Gary was well respected for the work he did, but more importantly for the person that he was. It was unanimous that, among his peers, the trophy for the MLB Groundskeepers Hall of Fame was named in his honor upon its inception in 2011.
"Gary set a standard that we all admire to this day, not just in his profession but in his personal relationships, and we are thrilled to hear that he is receiving such a high honor from his peers," said Bob Quinn, Brewers Executive Vice President - Finance and Administration. "His care for the grounds at County Stadium and Miller Park in often challenging conditions was always at the top of the class. He was also a great friend to everyone in the organization, and a mentor to many who have now become established in the industry."
Vanden Berg began his career in sports turf management when he joined the Milwaukee Brewers Grounds Department in 1981 as an assistant to the legendary Harry Gill, who is recognized as one of the founders and driving force behind the formation of the Sports Turf Managers Association (STMA). Vanden Berg served as Gill's assistant until his passing in the fall of 1990, setting in motion his 21 years as the head groundskeeper for the Brewers. Prior to his work in Milwaukee, Vanden Berg got his start in the turf grass industry by working on golf courses where he grew up in Oakfield, Wisconsin.
In his time as an assistant and head groundskeeper at County Stadium, Vanden Berg not only had to produce a quality field for the game of baseball, but also for football. The Green Bay Packers played select home games at County Stadium through 1994. In addition to Brewers and Packers games, the field endured other events including concerts, measurable snowfall during the season, and tractor pulls, to name a few.
When the Brewers moved from County Stadium to Miller Park, Vanden Berg made the move with the team, tackling the challenge of managing grass in a retractable roof stadium and its imposing shade patterns. Vanden Berg prepared the Miller Park field for numerous events, most notably the 2002 All-Star Game and the Brewers' playoff appearances in 2008 and 2011.
Vanden Berg will forever be remembered for the internship program that he established in Milwaukee for college students aspiring to become sports turf managers. Students from all over the nation sent their resumes in, hoping to get a spot on the Brewers Grounds Staff every year due to the great experience they were able to receive under Vanden Berg. The national STMA recognized the importance of his internship program, and established the Gary Vanden Berg Internship Grant for students seeking internships that may not have otherwise been able to afford it.
To be considered for induction to the Major League Baseball Groundskeepers Hall of Fame, a person must have ceased employment in the profession for at least five years, and have made a significant contribution to groundskeeping and/or the sports turf industry at the Major League level. An individual's impact on the community is also considered. Nominees are submitted to the MLB Groundskeepers Association for a vote. Each team has one vote; a nominee must receive must receive 75% of the vote of all active association members.