Braves closer Mark Melancon runs artificial turf company - Sports Illustrated

Braves Closer Mark Melancon Runs His Own Turf Company

Have you met Mark from Diamond Quality Turf?
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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 had caught an Ozzie Albies home run in the bullpen. On Tuesday night, in Game 2, Melancon had, incredibly, done it again. Atlanta had taken a 2–0 lead over the Dodgers.

The caller was not interested in any of this. She was Debbie Hertenstein, his administrative assistant at Diamond Quality Turf, and she needed to discuss logistics with Melancon: His artificial-turf company was installing a putting green at the home of a former NFL executive. 

“Oh my gosh, that’s all I do,” says Melancon. “It’s this, and then I go to the yard.”

Family comes first for Melancon. Baseball comes second. And artificial turf comes third. Two years ago, Melancon’s sister and brother-in-law, Michelle and Gerardo Urbiola, moved to the west coast of Florida to be near Mark and his wife, Mary Catherine. The Urbiolas immediately began job hunting. Around that time, Melancon, an avid amateur golfer, had a putting green installed at his home. He began to use it and found himself horrified at the shoddy construction. “The slope, the cuts, the type of material they put in, the sand, the drainage,” he says. “It was not done very well at all. It looks nice from afar, but once you start to use it, you realize you can’t.”

He thought he and his family could do better. So they decided to try.

These days, the company installs everything from home putting greens to practice fields to large-scale landscaping. Melancon manages 15 employees. Gerardo is the team lead, often working 14-hour days laying synthetic grass, and Michelle is the project coordinator. Melancon’s other brother-in-law, on his wife’s side, is J.B. Shuck, a free-agent outfielder who has spent parts of seven seasons in the majors. He has taken over 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 seemingly insignificant details can dramatically change performance. He loves dealing with customers. He loves giving people a chance to practice the sports that bring them joy.

Melancon says he does not draw a salary, but his work at Diamond amounts to a full-time job. He orders materials and handles payroll. He hires workers and updates the website. He makes sales calls. Most of his clients don’t recognize him, he says. To them he’s just Mark from Diamond Quality Turf.

Braves closer Mark Melancon featured on his company website.

Braves closer Mark Melancon featured on his company website.

He tries to maintain that impression. His bio on the website is notably understated: “Mark has an extensive background in sports facilities + field/turf performance, and his network includes many pro athletes. Mark ensures each Diamond Turf project meets the same standards the pros demand in an artificial turf sports field surface. He has played some of the world's top golf courses and enjoys spending time with his wife & 3 kids. Mark's degree is in Sports Management from the University of Arizona.”

Nowhere does he mention that his extensive background in sports facilities comes from playing professionally in them, or that his network includes many pro athletes because he has been their teammate. “It’s not about my accomplishments,” he says. “It’s more about providing a good-quality practice facility for somebody in their backyard or commercial facility.”

Still, his paying job provides some benefits. Before the pandemic hit, he arranged to meet with turf dealers in each road city. And he has 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 turf. As his teammates headed to the bullpen before a game, he would trot out to the groundskeepers’ office and spend the first three innings watching the action on TV and swapping war stories with the staff.

“You wouldn't think you'd have to water the field, but there was some cork in it,” he says. “Depending on how much water you put on that cork and how much that cork acts like a sponge, it created a different balance. So they had to water it at a certain time before each game in order to create more of a realistic bounce. And at one point near second base, one of the sprinklers wasn't hitting an area. And so when the ball would go up the middle it would give a different bounce than throughout the rest of the infield. I thought that was pretty interesting.”

The league’s COVID-19 policies have kept him away from the groundskeepers at Globe Life Field, which is hosting the NLCS and the World Series, but he raves about their artificial surface. If the Braves advance to the Fall Classic, he will be excited to have a shot at his first title. And he will also be excited to have another week to study the turf.