I’m hoping that everything is going your way, that you’re having a great fall and that your fields are in great shape. I’m proud to see so many of you doing the job in spite of weather extremes, with some areas experiencing drought while others are getting above-normal rainfall.
I would like to pass along a story that I have been following very closely in my hometown newspaper. The Citizens Voice in Wilkes Barre, Pa. Something that I have preached about is making news: the triple A baseball club, the Scranton/Wilkes Barre Yankees, and the troubles with their playing field due to rain at PNC Park.
The playing field has given them problems due to rain and drainage. Seven home games were cancelled, including one on a sunny Fourth of July that club officials said would have attracted a sellout crowd. The team’s next few games after that were relocated to Lehigh Valley Coca-Cola Park in Allentown, with the two games following those moved to Syracuse, N.Y.
The natural grass field, which replaced the existing artificial field, was installed in early 2007 by the Cincinnati-based Motz Group at a cost of $638,000. The Lackawanna County Multipurpose Stadium Authority approved the contract and Lackawanna County paid the bill.
Charles Schillinger, staff writer for Times-Shamrock newspaper and citizensvoice.com, reported the following: “Stadium Authority solicitor Frank Tunis said authority members are not experts on baseball fields and Motz Group was engaged to oversee the replacement of the old field. He said he is in the process of finding and reviewing consulting arrangements and the contracts with Motz to see what legal options the authority may have.”
In a news release on its Web site, the Motz Group touts its ties to Mandalay vice president of development, Richard W. Neumann, who suggested the company for the work. Neumann worked for the Motz Group for 15 years, according to the report.
County officials hired Ewing Cole of Philadelphia and Murray Cook, turf consultant and president of Brickman Sports Turf Services, to assess the PNC Field. Mike Washo, Lackawanna County commissioner, received a three-page report from Cook concluding that the field is at the end of service life, describing a situation in which poor drainage is compounded by root rot caused by water and a shallow root system. According to Cook’s report, the sand under the grass at PNC field isn’t as deep as it should be, while the irrigation system was built too shallow. A typical fabric barrier is also hurting water flow. Cook recommended the field be removed in the fall. Cook’s report also said that the cost of replacing the field will be $650,000 to $750,000. He also noted that the expertise of Steve Horne, head groundskeeper, helped mask the problems and allowed the field to perform well prior to this year’s heavy rainfall for the area.
The story goes on and on. In citizensvoice.com on July 29, Schillinger reported, “The Lackawanna County Multipurpose Stadium Authority received a subpoena from the U.S. Attorney’s Office late last week for copies of all approved contracts between 2004 and 2008.”
It was very educational reading all the news about PNC Field. One can all but wonder how anyone would spend $680,000 for a field to last only three to five years. You read stories about fields failing, but why does it keep happening, especially with all the knowledge we have today?
Why am I interested in this story? I am a taxpayer in Luzerne County. Though Luzerne County is not part of the Stadium Authority, it is a 50 percent owner in the franchise. Our county commissioners say they were left out in the dark on the PNC developments. I feel sincerely sorry for the taxpayers.
George Toma is an NFL Hall of Fame inductee, one of the founders of the Sports Turf Managers Association and mentor to hundreds of sports field managers over his 67 years in the profession.