Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Larry DiVito, Head Groundskeeper for the Minnesota Twins. Upon entering Target Field, it seemed hard to imagine the work that goes into cleaning and fixing a snow covered winter field. Minnesota winters are brutally snowy and cold which can be tough for landscaping.
Twins fans were excited to finally see baseball outdoors again in 2010 when Target Field opened. Given the uniqueness of the weather in Minnesota, there are a lot of challenges that go into keeping the field in great shape year round. Larry has had a long career in various climates including a Head Groundskeeper job in Pawtucket from 1995-2001, Assistant Head Groundskeeper for the Los Angeles Dodgers from 2002-2005, Head Groundskeeper in Washington from 2006-2008, and now head groundskeeper in Minnesota. Larry is a member of the Sports Turf Managers Association.
Before going to his office for the scheduled chat, we talked about All Star preparations and what it takes to get the field ready for the start of the season.
Most prep work and repairs are done in the fall before the snow and cold weather hit. Once the season ends, seeds are planted and all repairs are done by the middle of October. Repairs can include planting seeds in worn areas of the field, replacing divots, and any other necessary changes.
Most fans pay attention to the grass when they think of landscaping but Larry couldn’t stress enough how important the dirt and base paths are to maintain. Once a year in the fall, they will rototill the dirt which loosens it up and airs it out. They then infill where needed and smooth the surface out. Once their prep work is done before winter, an agricultural blanket is applied to the field. Air and water can still get through the blanket, but it protects the field surface from being buried in snow. Target Field has an underground heating system ten inches below the field which helps in the wintertime as well.
When asked when his toughest or busiest time of the year is, he mentioned March 1st-May 1st. Snow has to be removed from the field, the blanket comes off, and the dirt and grass have to be brought up to playing quality after the harsh winter.
I have always been curious about the field specifications and how patterns are created on the field. The twins keep their grass cut at an inch to one and one-eighth inches throughout the season. It is typically cut every other day to maintain that clean look and regular length. He mentioned the patterns seen in the outfields around the MLB are created by a roller blade in the back of the mower. He stated how different designs can affect how the ball rolls or breaks much like in golf.
Same with the baselines, things are kept pretty standard at Target Field. Certain players may have different requests, but field designs are kept uniform for the most part. I asked Larry if there will be anything different with the All-Star game in Minneapolis this season. He said the field specs will remain the same, and the only things that could change is the outfield pattern possibly, and extra logos near the on deck area.
A typical day for Larry and his crew can vary a lot depending on the weather. Larry stated how important and ahead of the game they must be to prepare for anything. The five-ten day forecasts are a good projector, but he likes to look at radar 36-48 hours before a game to get the most accurate reading.
A rainy morning during the season can spoil the prep work for that day. Night games are the most common instances for an MLB team. For a typical day in this instance, the tarp comes off in the morning and necessary prep work such as mowing, cleaning/raking the base paths, applying dirt, watering the grass/infield, and other necessary functions happen each day.
Between 4PM and 5PM, they determine whether the crew is still needed or if they can go home for the evening. On a night with a chance of rain, some of the crew will stick around. There is a tarp crew that comes in a couple hours before game time. This crew cleans up between and after batting practice, rakes the infield during the game, and is ready to roll the tarp out if necessary. Day games are easiest according to Larry.
One interesting aspect of stadium upkeep is scheduling. Anyone involved in baseball as a fan or an employee knows how crucial weather can be. When games are postponed, the games are rescheduled at a time that is convenient for both teams. From the groundskeeping aspect, it can take a toll on preparations.
The Twins had two games postponed due to winter conditions last year. Both games were against National League teams and the scheduling wasn’t all that easy to make up. The Miami Marlins ended up having a doubleheader at Target Field the night after a “snowout”. This was a challenge for the crew as they had snow/tarp removal to worry about as well as getting the infield base paths ready. One advantage to a doubleheader Larry stated was the fact that there is no batting practice. This gives his crew ample time to make fixes and preparations before and between the games without interruption. The New York Mets game was easier to makeup as a date was agreed upon for later in the season.
Concerts and other non-baseball events can take a toll on the playing surface as well. Kenny Chesney has performed twice at Target Field and both times, the stage was in center field. This resulted in having to replace certain areas of the outfield. For bigger concerts, Larry said the promoters have the say for what goes on. DiVito was able to work with the promoter for the second show to lessen the areas needing attention after the show. There was a locally run rock show at Target Field in 2013 as well, but the stage was put on one of the base paths and the seating areas were along the third baseline. They had creative control for that concert as it was put on by the city and the team.
After the long winter that most of the country has experienced, baseball fans should have a special appreciation for one of the toughest jobs in the game, that of the Head Groundskeeper. The Twins host the 2014 All Star weekend festivities this year from July 12-15th.