Carey Erven has managed the athletic fields for the University of Connecticut in Storrs for eight years. While the football team plays off-campus at Rentschler Fields, he manages seven fields that accommodate practices and games for the various Division I programs.
The field hockey team, which won national championships in 2013 and 2014, and the women’s lacrosse team play on synthetic surfaces. But both soccer teams, the softball and baseball teams practice and play on grass fields. Erven also maintains the grass fields on which the football team practices.
Erven, who has a staff of just one plus a small group of students from the turf program, understands how important aeration and topdressing are for plant health – and that, more importantly, it means a safer playing surface for athletes. His goal is to aerify each field two or three times a year, but that doesn’t always happen.
“I’m not able to set up a hard schedule,” Erven says, citing the weather as a problem for scheduling.
Erven calls on a contractor to give each grass field an annual deep-slicing aeration. In terms of aeration, hollow tining and filling holes with sand is preferred.
“I don’t have the manpower to let the cores dry and then rake and pick them up,” he says.
Often during the season, Erven and his crew will solid tine the day of a game, and the field is ready to go that evening.
Even though he is short-staffed, there are times when the condition dictates holes need to be punched, and Erven will find a way to get it done.
“If it looks like it really needs it, I’ll get out and do it,” he says. “I’d love to get on a more regular schedule to do it.”
Aerification is vitally important because only the football practice fields are built on sand; below the others is mishmash, which Erven describes as “whatever God put down and the glaciers left behind.”
All fields are a bluegrass/rye mix.
Erven’s career in sports field maintenance has taken several turns. He has worked as a member of the crew at Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox. He was also the head groundskeeper for the Pawtucket (Rhode Island) Red Sox Triple-A baseball team, with a year working for the New England Patriots thrown in. He has valuable experience.
“I know where they should be,” he says of the UConn fields.
According to Erven, many sports field managers grasp the importance of aerifying, even if they don’t have the means to do so regularly and properly.
“I think they understand it. I don’t think they have the resources or time to do it,” he says. “The fields aren’t where they should be, and it’s not the people who are maintaining them who are at fault.”
Chris Ecton is in charge of the turf at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, home of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the University of Pittsburgh football team and the site of state high school football championship games.
According to Ecton, who graduated with a degree in turf management from the University of Kentucky, most field managers understand the importance of aeration as it pertains to player safety.
“I’m sure some guys know the role aerification plays, but there is always room to learn,” he says.
Ecton’s regimen for keeping the turf healthy entails DryJecting, hollow solid tining and hollow coring. He’ll DryJect – a high-pressure, water-based injection system which blasts aeration holes through the root zone to fracture the soil, while its patented vacuum technology simultaneously fills holes with amendment – just before the season commences.
Ecton says his schedule depends on “how much traffic we’re getting and how much moisture.”
Heinz Field hosts as many as 22 football games a year, along with corporate outings with an occasional concert thrown in.
His topdressing routine includes putting down sand at a rate of 11 to 12 tons per acre. The frequency depends on the condition of his turf.
Ecton’s goal with aeration and topdressing is to achieve a field hardness that is safe for play, especially in light of the concussion issue in the NFL. Ecton monitors the firmness of the field with a Clegg Impact Soil Tester.
Cashman Field in Las Vegas is home to the 51s, the Class A affiliate of the New York Mets. Kevin Moses is in his second year as ground manager for the park.
Moses says he tries to aerify his bermudagrass field as often as he can during the season, but his schedule revolves around the team’s 71 home games.
Moses uses quarter-inch solid tines and punches holes that are either a quarter-inch or three-quarters of an inch. His regular topdressing rate is very light.
Like Ecton and Erven, Moses says field managers realize the importance of aeration and topdressing for safe playing surfaces. But there’s another problem.
“The biggest hurdle for turf condition is having the equipment and the bodies [to achieve it],” Moses says.