Scotty Atkins was 9-years-old, playing baseball in his local league, when he began to experience a groundskeeper’s joy.
“My dad was on the field committee for my Little League baseball team,” he said. “And we would come to the field on Sundays and do field work. We would cut the grass and work on the mound and stuff like that.
“And once we were done, my dad would help me practice by hitting a bucket of baseballs in the field and throwing a bucket of balls to me for batting practice.
“Pretty much from that time forward, I loved it. I loved helping get the field groomed.”
His passion has developed into acclaim. In this first season with the Blue Wahoos, Atkins was recently named the 2023 Southern League Groundskeeper of the Year in a ratings system vote of the league’s managers.
In addition, Atkins’ fellow co-worker, Cedric Bascom, was named the Southern League Visiting Clubhouse Attendant of the Year. It was first-time honors for both men, who spent the Blue Wahoos 2023 home schedule working in tandem to help provide teams with the best possible playing experience.
“For both of us to win these awards in the same year is very special,” Bascom said. “Scotty and I got to know each other soon after he got here (to Pensacola in 2023) and during the season we had the same kind of routine.
“Scotty would come into the (visitors clubhouse) every day and ask if the manager had gotten in, or if (manager) needed anything from him. He wanted to keep him abreast of weather and anything else going on.”
Bascom joined the Blue Wahoos in 2014 as a visiting clubhouse attendant. His role is part of an wide variety of jobs Bascom performs while also helping mentor youths as a youth-league football coach.
He was informed of his award by surprise when team president Jonathan Griffin called him in for a meeting to set up the announcement in front of other front office staff members.
“Oh man, you had me there,” Bascom said, laughing during that moment. “I didn’t know what was going on. But it’s real special.”
Their awards were announced as part of Minor League Baseball’s post season awards across all levels of the sport. For the Blue Wahoos, the honors were further enhanced when Jaymeson Wilcox, the head groundskeeper for the Beloit (Wisc.) Sky Carp was named the Midwest League Groundskeeper of the Year.
The Sky Carp are the High-A affiliate of the Miami Marlins and a franchise also owned by Quint and Rishy Studer, who brought Double-A baseball to Pensacola in 2012 with the Blue Wahoos. Both teams completed their third season as Marlins affiliates.
“I got to meet Jaymo my first day here and we joked about that over lunch… about winning groundskeeper of year together, so to see that come true is a pretty big moment for both of us,” said Atkins, who previously worked for the Richmond (Va.) Flying Squirrels, the Eastern League, Double-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants. “He’s a great guy and we’re both alike in how we love being groundskeepers.”
All three award winners were hailed in surveys for their professionalism, dedication and willingness to go the extra mile to shine in their jobs.
“For the past few years, I have not changed how I do things,” Bascom said. “Whatever I do for one team, I do for the other. I try to keep my same kind of pattern and stay consistent.
“I make sure everything is set up for (teams) and then I tell them, ‘Hey I am in my office I will stay out of your way. If you need me, come see me.’ I think that has worked best.”
Atkins began his career path while a sports management major at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Ariz. He then earned a turf management certificate from Virginia Tech.
While in Richmond, he also worked for Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) which uses the same stadium, The Diamond, for its home games.
Maintaining Blue Wahoos Stadium was Atkins’ first at a ballpark using artificial turf and a dirt infield. It was also his first time experiencing Pensacola’s summer weather and frequent threats of thunderstorms.
He was able to have two part-time assistant groundskeepers, Jake Hedbawny and Michael Pace, working with him all summer as well as now in the offseason. Both Hedbawny and Pace also assist in stadium events operations.
“Without them, I don’t know what I would have done,” he said. “I really want to them to be recognized for all they have done. It’s a great team we have and they’ve gone above and beyond to make sure this field looks as great as it does.”
Despite two-thirds of the Blue Wahoos home games under some kind of potential threat of afternoon storm or pop-up rain, none of the Blue Wahoos 69 games were lost due to weather.
There were 12 games delayed, but none wiped out. The Blue Wahoos were the only team in the league that did not have a game postponed.
“I learned our weather here is predictably unpredictable,” said Atkins, laughing. “It definitely is a unique situation. I think we had one complete six-game series without pulling the tarp, but even that week there were times when there were storms all around us and there was potential for us to pull the tarp.
“That was a daily and hourly challenge, just keeping track of the weather and making sure the field was ready to go. I know for our double homestand (12 games in 13 days), we pulled the tarp every single day.”
Once baseball season ended in late September, Atkins, Hedbawny and Pace worked to remove the pitcher’s mound and line the field for football. The Blue Wahoos hosted the annual Soul Bowl youth league series of games on Oct. 14, then the first-ever high school football game featuring Booker T. Washington vs. Tate on Nov. 3.
The trio is also involved in daily maintenance after events occur.
“We will replace our base anchors and install new base anchors, then rebuild the mound in January,” Atkins said.
His award was recognized by Miami Marlins head groundskeeper Chad Mulholland, whom Atkins has been in contact with for advise and tips on synthetic turf maintenance. The Marlins’ LoanDepot Park, along with Blue Wahoos Stadium and Beloit’s ABC Supply Stadium all have the same brand of synthetic turf and similar infields.