Go to Admin » Appearance » Widgets » and move Gabfire Widget: Social into that MastheadOverlay zone
COLUMBUS — From taking care of lawns in his hometown of Mount Victory, to becoming head groundskeeper of Columbus Crew Stadium, Weston Appelfeller has had the opportunity to do what he loves since high school.
Almost 60 miles from his residence in Mount Victory, Appelfeller serves as head groundskeeper for the Major League Soccer stadium, Columbus Crew Stadium, driving back and forth each day to oversee the day-to-day duties of the field and surrounding area.
Not quite at 30 years of age, Appelfeller has already performed groundskeeping at several locations besides Columbus, including the Ohio State University campus and Fenway Park in Boston.
It all started from his freshman year in high school, he said, stemming from his love of sports.
“I knew then I wanted to do something with turf,” he said. “I wanted to play sports, but a very few number of people make it to play sports, so the only way I knew I could get there was if I took care of the grass.”
Appelfeller began his road to becoming head groundskeeper of Columbus Crew Stadium when he was in high school, offering lawn care to anyone in Mount Victory who would accept it.
“I actually drove my mower around everywhere just to take care of everyone’s yards that I could,” Appelfeller said. “Whoever would let me take care of their yards, I would do it for however much they’d pay me; I really didn’t care.”
In his senior year of high school, Appelfeller was accepted at the Ohio State University. Once there, on his first day of classes, he jumped on the first opportunity he could find to work for the campus’ grounds crew.
“I was lucky enough that when I went to Ohio State, I went into my advisor’s office the first day of school and said, ‘Where can I get a job down here?’ So he said, ‘Let me try to get you on with the Ohio State field crew,’” Appelfeller explained. “When I called to ask (the field crew) if they had anything, the guy said, ‘No, no, we’re pretty full right now.’ So I said, ‘OK, well I got recommended to you guys to try to get a job by my advisor,’ and he said, ‘Well, we might be able to fit one more on.’”
Appelfeller worked for the OSU grounds crew for three-and-a-half years, helping tend to the soccer field, baseball diamond, and of course, Ohio Stadium. In fact, in his freshman year at the university, the Buckeyes football team went on to win the national championship.
“That was quite an experience,” he said.
Right out of college, Appelfeller landed a job as assistant groundskeeper at Columbus Crew Stadium. Not quite two years later, the head groundskeeper left and he was named to the position.
But after just eight months, Appelfeller received a call from the head groundskeeper at the renowned Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox, offering him the position of grounds crew manager.
Appelfeller performed an internship at the stadium while in college, getting his foot in the door, but never imagined himself working there at that point in his young life.
“Honestly, my goal was to make it to Fenway at some point in life, probably when I was 40, 45 or 50,” he said. “I didn’t think that when I was 24, I’d get a call from Fenway Park asking, ‘Do you want to come work for us?’ And I didn’t think by 28 I’d be done working for them.”
While working at the stadium, Appelfeller admitted to being somewhat overwhelmed by the celebrities he saw while there.
“For the first two or three months I was there for that, you see a celebrity walk by and you’re staring them down – you’re just shocked at what you’re seeing,” he said. “But after you’re there for a couple months, it just becomes everyday stuff.”
On New Year’s Day 2010, Appelfeller had the privilege of working at Fenway during the NHL Winter Classic, where the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers competed on a makeshift hockey rink erected in the middle of the field for a regular season game. Until then, Appelfeller said he had no interest in hockey whatsoever. That changed following the event.
Appelfeller gave up the position at Fenway after three-and-a-half years following the birth of his daughter. Not wanting her to grow up away from family, he and his wife, Stephanie, moved closer to home in Philadelphia, Pa., where he was assistant groundskeeper for the MLS’ Philadelphia Union soccer club.
After just an eight-month stint in Philly, Appelfeller returned to Crew Stadium, a place he now considers his home.
“We like this place; it’s home,” he said. “I pretty much knew from the moment I left in 2008 that I’d love to come back to this area, this place in particular. I really like the Columbus area; this place has a great organization and I love working here.”
Appelfeller also admitted he didn’t mind the absence of pressure in maintaining the soccer field compared to what he was under in Boston.
“You have 81 games in Boston where they sell out 38,000 people every night and they live and die by Red Sox baseball, so if you make a mistake, everyone knows about it. You’ve got to be a perfectionist there; every little small detail that you don’t think matters does matter,” he explained. “Here, I’m very much a perfectionist from that, but it’s a lot easier. (At Fenway), you have 90 percent of the game played on dirt. Here, the entire game is played on grass. It’s a lot easier to take care of this field than it was (at Fenway).”
But despite not getting summers off and working 70- to 80-hour weeks in the 90-degree weather, Appelfeller said he loves what he does and is going to continue doing it for as long as he can.
“I’ll do this until the day I retire,” he said. “I love it, being outside. I’m not working in any type of factory, office or anything like that. I get to be outside all the time and enjoy the weather.”
By TY THAXTON
Times staff writer