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Managing the Pitch: An inside look at BBVA grounds keeping

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Behind the scenes with the Dynamo’s Head Sports Turf Manager, Dan Bergstrom

BBVA Compass Stadium
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

When fans attend a Houston Dynamo, Houston Dash soccer match or a TSU football game at BBVA Compass Stadium, their eyes are glued to the players, the coaches and the scoreboard. They want to see their favorite players, cheer loudly for their team, boo the opposing team as loud as possible, and hopefully see some great competition.

If you follow any sports team on social media you’ll see the players practicing, in the weight room, or doing community service. The coaches will give the typical coach speak with the media “I’m just proud of our team for coming together to get the win” or “We need to shake this one off, fix our mistakes and be ready for our next game”.

What we don’t see are the guys that show up early on game day, work 14-16 hours that day alone to ensure the game goes as smoothly as possible. They use analytics and monitor high tech equipment and watch the game closely to ensure they are giving the team the highest quality product they can. You see the fruits of their labor during every home game, and every picture from practices at the Houston Sports Park.

They are the Forever Orange Ground Crew.

During the recent Dynamo off-season one addition to the organization was Dan Bergstrom, the new Head Sports Turf Manager at BBVA Compass Stadium. He and his team of six hard working men are responsible for making sure that beautiful green pitch in the middle of the stadium is in perfect shape for every match. I recently interview Dan for The Dynamo Theory to help give fans some insight into a very important, yet easily overlooked, position within the organization.

Dan, welcome to the Dynamo and Dash family. To start off, tell me about yourself. How did you get into turf management?

Dan: I’ve been working in this job field for over 20 years now. I went to Iowa State University and have an agricultural background. While I was at Iowa State I had an internship in their turf management area and enjoyed what I was doing.

What sports teams have you worked with?

I started with the old Cleveland Browns organization. After they moved the team to Baltimore, I moved to the University of Kentucky and assisted with all of their sports fields during my five years with the university. Football, baseball, soccer, tennis, and several others. This gave me some great experience addressing the challenges each sport represents when it comes to wear and tear on turf. After the University of Kentucky I went to the University of Nebraska where they were building a brand new baseball stadium.

So how did you go from the University of Nebraska to the Houston Dynamo?

I had a small stop along the way with another team here in Houston. For the last 13 seasons I was the Senior Director of Major League Field Operations for the Houston Astros.

Minute Maid has a beautiful field, were there any specific challenges at that stadium that you see at BBVA Compass?

The shade on the turf at Minute Maid made it difficult for the grass to grow properly. Like any other vegetation, grass needs sunlight to grow. We learned some tricks at Minute Maid that I will implement at BBVA Compass.

So what is a normal week for you and your crew? Is there anything different done during weeks there are no events?

During a normal week where one or more events are scheduled, we do evenly programmed mowing three to four times that week, fertilize the field twice a week, and use a special liquid fertilizer four to five times that week. Then we also aerate the field every week after a game. Weeks where we have no events scheduled we complete a more aggressive aeration and also do vertical cutting which removes some of the damaged grass, which helps the overall field grow back thicker, greener and stronger.

With TSU also using the field sometimes, is there anything different done to prepare for football games?

No, we strive to give the best, most durable surface regardless of the event.

I’ve been to many Dynamo games over the last few seasons, why in the world do the sprinklers go off during every half time? There’s no way it’s an accident repeated at every game.

(Laughing) Actually the sprinklers going off before the game and during half time are mandated by the league. The players prefer a moist surface which makes it easier for them to cut, slide and make other soccer moves on the field.

Last question. What is one thing we haven’t discussed already what do you think fans would appreciate knowing?

We have sensors throughout the field providing live, real-time data for our analysis. We know the moisture level and types of nutrients in the soil at all times. This way we know exactly what the turf needs in order for it to be in the absolute, best possible condition each and every game.

I’d like to personally thank Dan for taking the time during his busy week to provide some insight into a little-known yet very important job at BBVA Compass and the Houston Sports Park. The next time you’re at the stadium be sure to take a moment to admire the work he and the rest of the Forever Orange Ground Crew do.

Editor’s Note: Original version of the article incorrectly stated TCU as using BBVA Stadium. The article has been updated to say TSU who use the stadium for football games.