Levi Weber has big shoes to fill. And he knows it.
As turf manager of the Spokane Indians, there are not-so-subtle reminders everywhere about the excellence he’s expected to uphold – the finest field in the Northwest League.
“I’ve always been kind of wired that way that once a tradition started, you don’t really break it and you do everything possible you can to keep it,” Weber said.
The Indians stadium grounds crew has been awarded the NWL award for the best playing surface in 12 straight and 18 of the past 32 years – and four times was recognized as the Sports Turf Managers Association national field of the year for short-season Single-A.
It’s a pretty big task for a 23-year-old from Colton, Washington, in his first job out of college.
“I’ve kind of used it as fuel, and a goal to accomplish,” he said.
Weber described how he writes his goals down to help visualize them before he can achieve them. He has his goals posted where he can see them every day and at the top of the list is “Northwest League Field of the Year.”
“It’s expected to win that every year,” he said. “It’s the goal every single year. That’s what our hope is and that’s what we strive for. So that kind of fuels us more than anything to be better.”
Weber uses his small-school sports background as a reference point to maintaining the tradition.
“It’s not really pressure, necessarily,” he said. “I kind of like to think of it more as like an adversity deal. I’ve dealt with that with sports, and being an athlete and trying to win state championships and do different things like that. I’ve kind of related it all to that.”
Seeds take root
Weber said early on he knew he wanted to work outside in a profession, but it took a chance assignment in high school to show him the way.
“I didn’t want to be at a desk and feel trapped almost,” he said.
He had already been accepted at Washington State but wasn’t sure what to study. A guidance counselor was showing students some options to college and while researching the project, Weber found something that drew his interest.
“I found a turf/grass management program down in Walla Walla for like, a two-year deal,” he said. “And I wondered if (WSU) had that. And sure enough, I looked it up, and I’ve been in that ever since.”
Weber grew up in Colton playing baseball – along with every other sport, as athletes do at small schools. He knew he wouldn’t go pro playing, though, and saw this as an opportunity to achieve those dreams.
He entered the turf/grass management program at WSU specifically to pursue a career in baseball groundskeeping.
“Turf/grass management is mostly ran for golf, right?” he said. “Because that’s kind of the big market and everything. But then the other half is athletic fields. And so I specialized in more of the athletic fields and baseball kind of thing. I did my two internships for golf, but I always knew that as soon as I got the chance, I’d want to do some baseball stuff.”
Home team calls
Weber earned his degree in turf/grass management earlier this year. He did internships at golf courses and worked for the Cougars’ baseball program. Every experience he got in college – whether it was baseball-specific or not – he related it back to the game.
“I always kind of took a baseball-side approach to things,” he said. “And so I kind of tailored those internships on the golf course toward that. It was just kind of how I got my knowledge of how different things work and how I need to be doing different things in order to get a better response out of the grass.”
After graduation, he applied for lots of jobs, but one in particular with the Texas Rangers to be an intern in Arlington, Texas. He was waiting to hear back from them when his college adviser told him about the opening in Spokane – coincidentally the Rangers’ short-season Single-A affiliate.
“I was like, ‘Oh, you know, that sounds like a lot of fun.’ ”
Weber did his homework. He was impressed with the track record and the personnel, including Tony Lee, the veteran director of Facilities and Grounds. He sent an email, got a phone call and the rest was history.
“I hadn’t been to a ton of Indians games,” Weber said. “But a buddy went to school up here in Spokane. He came to the games all the time. He’s like, ‘Oh, you guys got to come. It’s so much fun.’ And sure enough, came out as fun, field looked great. And so I just kind of just did my own little research and found out about all the fields of the years and all that stuff.
“And my parents really liked it more than me moving to Texas.”
Every time folks in the Rangers organization on the player development side come to Spokane, they always rave about the field and conditions. They site the playing surface as one of the reasons they can entice players to sign with the team and that they see the field as a resource.
Weber said that’s a point of pride with his crew.
He told a story about how an opposing pitcher recently told him the mound at Avista stadium was “the best we’ve ever pitched on.”
“I mean, that’s makes you feel good,” he said. “But you just always got to keep striving to do something better.”
Nearing the end of his first season as a professional field manager, he has aspirations of climbing the ladder.
“I want to be the guy that people call and say, ‘Hey, I just can’t figure this out. What do you think?’ I want to be able to answer them.”
Weber said his ultimate goal is the same as the players’.
“I really want to be a big leaguer,” he said. “I mean, that’s every little kid’s dream, whether it’s playing or whatever.
“When you get told that time, or you choose that time, is over with in your life and it’s time for the next chapter …I mean, for me, this is the next-best thing.”
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