I hope everyone is ready for the 2008 football season. In 2007, there were some bad fields, not only in my opinion, but in the opinions of players, management, press, groundskeepers and fans—some were singled out in the press. I sincerely feel sorry for these people. These groundskeepers are good groundskeepers, but problems arose.
I have seen groundskeepers not doing the job, and yes, some people running the teams could care less, but I do not feel sorry for the groundskeepers who had bad fields through their fault by buying sod that fell apart year after year and did not do the job. These are the ones that should be singled out—both in baseball and in football.
I’ve heard that some groundskeepers are upset that I keep pointing to the bad. I’d love to hear from them and be able to explain where I’m coming from on this. I sincerely believe we need to call a spade a spade. We have to acknowledge our problems—and face them—in order to learn from them.
Here it is 2008 and some baseball and football groundskeepers have told me that they received some bad sod. It was not what they expected and paid for. I have always said to check the sod at the sod farm. Pick what you want, take a picture, then send one of your crew to watch the harvest. Also, check with the grower to see if there was any disease or insect damage—this will give you weak sod.
Hats off and a standing ovation to Trevor Vance and his grounds crew. Just before a game between the Kansas City Royals and the Chicago White Sox in July, a heavy rainstorm dropped 2 inches of rain in 45 minutes. Kauffman Stadium is in the midst of a $250 million renovation project, and part of that involves constructing a new tunnel coming through the bullpen area. Everything is all torn up, with concrete and dirt everywhere. They had taken precautions, building a temporary, 4-foot-high, wooden levee, to keep the debris from washing down the tunnel. The rains broke through that levee sending a flood of water and silt onto the warning track, across into the far side bullpen and about 20 feet into the outfield. It basically covered the area from foul pole to foul pole.
The concrete dust and dirt formed a silt so fine it sealed off the fabric layer that separates the warning track material from the rock layer underneath it. That trapped the water in place. The construction crew joined Trevor and his crew in digging down to the fabric and pulling sections of it back to let the water drain through the clean rock underneath.
They couldn’t wash off the surface silt since adding water turned it into a slippery slime. They had to dig off the top layer of the warning track to remove enough silt for safe play. They couldn’t scoop the silt off the outfield without damaging the grass and they couldn’t wash it off. They had to move it off with squeegees. It kept raining lightly for the first two hours of the cleanup project, but with just four hours from the levee break to game time, they whipped the field, track and bullpens back into shape so the game could be played.
With the construction, the existing tunnel is blocked off. It takes a high loader to move any materials over the walls to get them in or out of the field level of the stadium. The next day, they brought in a load of calcined clay, core-aerified and removed the plugs. The turf is in recovery mode, but that entire section of the warning track is contaminated, and there’s no open window to fix it in season. Now, every time it rains, they have to use a cordless drill with a 1-inch drill bit to put enough holes through the warning track material and cover layer to let the water drain through the rock.
The grass field was installed in 1995, using the design Dr. James R. Watson, of Toro, and I developed. Not once in the 14 years before now did Trevor ever have to squeegee any water off the turf, and there are no surface field drains. The crew can dump the tarp and by the time they bring the tarp back, there is no water standing. And yes, Trevor’s tarp crew is noted to be one of the best. The secret is good design followed by an excellent turf management program.
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 66 years in the profession.