Ballpark treated to its new field of greensWritten by Brian Bohnert | | firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s a process that has only been done two other times since Fifth Third Field opened in 2002.
Last month, close to a dozen workers spent two days laying new sod onto the field in preparation for the Mud Hens’ April 16 Opening Day doubleheader. Sod started coming in March 15 and by the next day, crews had unloaded 26 flatbed trucks and laid 550 rolls of Kentucky bluegrass onto the field.
“Our main goal is to have [the field]consistent every day the guys play on it,” said Jake Tyler, sports turf manager at Fifth Third Field. “The main job of the minor leagues is player development, and you want the guys to have a nice surface to play on so they can hone in on their skills and get themselves to the next level in their career.”
Tyler said he subcontracted the work to Medina, Ohio based company Agricultural Design.
“Between their crew and my crew, we had 10-12 guys working about 16 hours a day,” he said. “We got the job done in two days.”
According to Tyler, each roll of new sod — measuring 4 feet wide by 50 feet long — was unloaded and transported to the field one by one by a fleet of forklifts, and then fed into a machine that rolled it out into the correct spot. Workers then used pitch- forks to pull the seams together.
Once the sod was down, Tyler said he and the crew placed woven plastic sheets atop the grass to raise the field’s temperature and promote healthy growth in time for Opening Day.
“It kind of acts like a greenhouse on the field,” he said. “Even though it was 30 degrees and sunny outside, the soil temperatures were in the mid-60s. That’s what allowed it to really green up, root down and take hold out there.”
Tyler said the new grass is more tolerant to disease, stress and foot traffic.
“I think the field is kind of like the 10th man on the team,” he said. “The better the surface they play on, the better they’re going to play.”
The new green came from Graff’s Turf Farm in Fort Morgan, Colorado, a choice Tyler said was easy given our region’s climate and the supplier’s reputation of providing sod to the Mud Hens’ Major League Baseball affiliate, the Detroit Tigers.
“When we’re sodding a field this time of year, if we try to get sod from anywhere local the fields are really wet, muddy and soft, and it would be really difficult for anybody in this area to harvest the sod,” he said.
The players will not be the only ones benefiting from the new turf. Tyler said fans can expect more aesthetically pleasing grass and much shorter rain delays.
“We don’t rain out here very often,” he said. “But once the rain stops, the field needs to be in immaculate condition so the guys can get out and play, and so the fans can have that experience and enjoy their time.”
While the field normally undergoes renovations every five to six years, Tyler said he and his crew held off until the turf was roughly nine years old so they could replace it in conjunction with December’s Winterfest.
“Building a hockey rink on the field, we would have had to replace the turf anyways,” he said.
Work started back in October as the groundskeeping crew installed a new irrigation system, stripped out the old turf and covered the field with a blanket so there wouldn’t be any exposed grass during Fifth Third Field’s ice-cold festivities.
The crew spent two days in early March plowing snow off the field to prepare for the project. Tyler said he expects the new sod to last up to six seasons.
“I love the attention to detail that is required to maintain the field,” he said. “It’s 2½ acres that we have to look at every square foot of. You get instant gratification at the end of the day when the job is done, the field looks its best and you hear the people say, ‘Oh man, the grass looks good.’ That’s instant gratification every single day.”