Braves closer Mark Melancon runs artificial turf company
The morning after Mark Melancon went viral, he was inundated with calls. On Monday night, in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series, the Braves’ closer got a home run by Ozzie Albies in the Bullpen. On Tuesday night, in Game 2, Melancon had done it again, incredibly. Atlanta had taken a 2-0 lead over the Dodgers.
The caller wasn’t interested. She was Debbie Hertenstein, his administrative assistant at Diamond Quality Turf, and she had to speak to Melancon about logistics: his artificial turf company installed a putting green for a former NFL manager.
“Oh my god, that’s all I do,” says Melancon. “It is that, and then I’ll go to the yard.”
For Melancon, the family comes first. Baseball comes second. And artificial turf comes in third place. Two years ago, Melancon’s sister and brother-in-law Michelle and Gerardo Urbiola moved to the west coast of Florida to be around Mark and his wife, Mary Catherine. The Urbiolas immediately started looking for work. At the time, Melancon, an avid amateur golfer, had a putting green installed in his home. He started using it and was appalled by the sloppy construction. “The slope, the cuts, the type of material they bring in, the sand, the drainage,” he says. “It wasn’t done very well at all. It looks fine from a distance, but once you start using it you will find that you can’t. “
He thought he and his family could do better. So they decided to give it a try.
Nowadays, the company installs everything from home putting greens to practice fields to large-scale landscaping. Melancon manages 15 employees. Gerardo is the team leader who often works 14-hour days laying artificial turf, and Michelle is the project coordinator. Melancon’s other brother-in-law on his wife’s side is JB Shuck, a free agent outfielder who has spent seven seasons with the majors. He has taken on many of Melancon’s duties as the league’s pandemic protocols have restricted his movements.
Artificial turf has become Melancon’s passion. He loves the way how seemingly insignificant details can dramatically change performance. He loves dealing with customers. He loves giving people the opportunity to do the sports they enjoy.
Melancon says he’s not on a salary, but his work at Diamond is a full-time job. He orders materials and takes care of payroll. He’s hiring and updating the website. He makes sales calls. Most of his customers don’t recognize him, he says. To them he’s just Mark from Diamond Quality Turf.
He tries to maintain that impression. His website biography is particularly cautious: “Mark has an extensive background in sports facilities + field / turf performance and his network includes many professional athletes. Mark ensures that every Diamond Turf project meets the same standards that the pros demand on an artificial turf sports field. He has played some of the best golf courses in the world and enjoys spending time with his wife and three children. Mark’s degree is in sports management from the University of Arizona. “
Nowhere does he mention that his extensive background in sports facilities is playing professionally in them, or that his network includes many professional athletes because he was their teammate. “It’s not about my performance,” he says. “It’s more about providing someone with a quality exercise facility in their backyard or commercial facility.”
Still, his paid job offers some advantages. Before the pandemic, he made appointments with lawn dealers in every street town. And he always played his home games on grass, but when he played for the Giants he spent three series a year at Chase Field, where the Diamondbacks play on grass. When his teammates went to the bullpen before a game, he trotted to the groundsman’s office and spent the first three innings watching the action on television and exchanging war stories with staff.
“You wouldn’t think you had to water the field, but there was some cork in it,” he says. “Depending on how much water you put on this cork and how much this cork acts like a sponge, a different balance is created. So you had to water it at some point before each game to get a more realistic jump. And at one point near the second base, one of the sprinklers didn’t hit the area. And if the ball went up in the middle, it would give a different jump than the rest of the infield. I found that pretty interesting. “
The league’s COVID-19 guidelines have kept him away from the placeholders at Globe Life Field, where the NLCS and World Series take place, but he raves about their man-made surface. When the Braves rise to the fall classic, he’ll be thrilled to win his first title. And he will also be excited to have another week to study the lawn.