Knox alum Zachary Ricketts ‘11 has been working as the assistant grounds-keeper for the Oakland Athletics, a professional baseball team, for nine years. He is a Galesburg native, attended Galesburg High School and was part of the baseball team there, the Silver Streaks, as well.
Ricketts graduated in 2011 as an environmental studies major and was a part of the Knox baseball and football team. He also managed the basketball team and was a member of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity. Aside from his extracurricular commitments, Ricketts also tended to the baseball fields at Knox.
When asked how he got into grounds-keeping, Ricketts explained that he had done it in high school and coach Jami Isaacson had heard of his experience and set up a position for him.
“I did a work study program that allowed me to work on the baseball field so I spent a lot of my time doing that Ñ whether I was getting paid or not, I enjoyed it,” Ricketts said.
Coach Isaacson said he’s known Ricketts for a long time, since he is a Galesburg native.
“He’s always wanted to do that, since the time he was 12. Since he’s from Galesburg, I knew him and he prepared himself, which is why he’s successful.” Isaacson said.
This is Ricketts’ 15th year doing grounds-keeping and he says he really enjoys the work he does.
“I knew I wanted to do something outdoors and with nature, but I didn’t know exactly. But when I started working on the baseball field, I found out that I could make a career out of this,” Ricketts said. “After that, I was very interested in it. I did an internship in the minor leagues when I was in college and I absolutely loved it, so I figured I’d keep doing it.”
Isaacson also said that Ricketts actually created his own minor while at Knox.
“He basically was our grounds-keeper for two years. He created his own minor. Basically, if you were at a state institution, it would be called agronomy, basically turf management. He did a very nice job with that.” Isaacson said.
A typical day for Ricketts involves mowing and overseeing others doing their part.
“Everyone has their own area on the field,” Ricketts explained.
Ricketts says that moisture in the dirt is the most important aspect of the field. On a typical game day, the team will warm up on the field. After they head back to the dugout and before the game begins, Ricketts’ team gets to work.
“As soon as they’re off, [we] hit it real hard for about an hour to prep it for the game: put down the lines, water it again, kind of make sure all the dirt is perfect. Then you watch a baseball game, drag [the rake across the field] during the game two times, then fix it again at night once everything’s done. Game days can be long days, but when the team’s on the road, it’s a lot more relaxing. [Then we] mow, water, fertilize, stuff like that,” Ricketts said.
As far as getting good at grounds-keeping, Ricketts emphasizes the niche nature of the job and advises that hands-on experience is the only way to learn.
“I think people get into this industry and it’s not a very widespread industry so you have to learn as you go,” Ricketts said. “My boss was awesome and just let me do my own thing. You really learn by hands-on, learn from your failure type stuff, so I think that was huge that Knox gave me the chance to try stuff out and see how it works.”
Ricketts says his favorite part of the job is when no one is at the stadium, running around the field and having that peaceful time to himself.
“My favorite part is probably when you’re in the stadium or on the field and no one’s around and you can just relax. Whatever you’re doing, watering or mowing Ñ I’ll work out there when everyone’s gone and jog around the field. I love when you’re alone there and able to relax,” Ricketts said.