Results tagged ‘ Turfgrass ’

2016 Cuba vs Rays Historic Game: A Case of Shovel Diplomacy


cuba field post renovation

A couple weeks ago,  MLB played a game in Havana, Cuba between the Tampa Rays and the Cuba national team.  What began as a goodwill baseball tour turned into something a bit more historic.  I started to hear a lot of chatter late last year regarding the potential of playing another MLB game between Cuba and a MLB team.  Commissioner Manfred even mentioned the Rays team  was selected but no official date was set for some time.   It was an on again off again event for a while. Then the White House called and planted a seed that eventually developed into President Barrack Obama i.e. @POTUS  (an family) attending a ballgame at Latino Americano stadium with Cuban President Raul Castro an a host of other dignitaries from both countries including Secretary John Kerry.    The event marked the first time a US sitting President visited the country since Calvin Coolidge went over on a battleship 80 years ago.  To say it was an honor to work this event would be difficult to put in words, But Im going to give it go.cuba first site work

What immediately became a critical component to making this event happen was ensuring we could upgrade the existing field and ballpark.  Everyone agreed the field an parts of the ballpark were in poor shape.  The idea of two countries who’ve been somewhat “distant” for many years began with the simple task of working together on solutions to ensure the playing surface was safe for both teams.    It was a challenging project made possible through a common goal that would guide us in rebuilding the field to meet everyone’s expectations.

mound prepping in cuba

“Shovel Diplomacy”

I’ve found in my 25 years planning these international events for MLB you learn a lot about people when you work side by side performing manual labor.    It’s funny how shovels, rakes and wheel barrels all work the same way in every country.   So that’s where our ballpark groundbreaking ambassadorial meetings began.  I’m sure everyone has seen photos of those groundbreaking events where they line up VIP’s and politicians holding gold-plated shovels.   We didn’t have those kind of shovels.   We had rusty square & round point shovels. (with Long , short and numerous broken handles).  There were no ties or suits. Just a bunch of Cubans an American with hoes and shovels.

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Topdressing by hand

Let’s put that thought in perspective.   The Cuban country had (has) limited sports field related resources and we needed to renovate the country’s main sports stadium in about 6 weeks.  Core projects included removing the entire infield grass and raising the field grade, removing all the foul territory grass, fine grading then replanting both areas.  We also had to install a new warning track, new pitcher’s mound, bullpens, home plate and foul poles.  This type of renovation would be a fairly standard project in the USA except we are in Cuba.   SO…we shoveled, raked, wheel barreled and spread 60 tons of infield clay, 500 tons of warning track mix, 50 tons of topdressing …BY HAND.  We planted 8000 sq ft of grass on the infield BY HAND using 6×6 inch squares of Bermuda plugs.  FYI , there are no laser graders on this island, no big roll sod harvesters…just string lines  to level the grades before grassing the field.

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Hand planting Bermuda plugs 5 weeks before game

I will have to say the Cuban people we had the privilege of working with over a six-week period were absolutely unbelievable!  We learned so much from each other.  Not only about field maintenance,  but about the world where potusthey live.  We shared meals daily.  We drank Cuban coffee out of a water bottle.  Drank Montero Narajaro soda.    We talked about our families, tipped some local Galion Rum ( that’s not gallon that’s Galion a Cuban brand) at the end of the day an laughed about simple daily events.  It was a true exchange of culture while building relationships between two people who love the game of baseball an shared the same passion for sportsturf management.

edging by hand

Oscar hand edging

As the event began to take shape we did not have full buy in by the Cuban government for delivering us materials so what resources they had were slow to come.  Eventually, once both country leaders confirmed they were attending the event, resources i.e: labor from the Varadara golf course, local products , a loader and assorted street rollers (and more wheel barrels) started to roll in daily.   Meanwhile we were working up a list of “Whitehouse” approved sportsturf equipment and materials that would be (legally) shipped to the country about 2 weeks before the event.   I mentioned earlier something about the poor condition of their local shovels and rakes.   Well , we barged over numerous new landscape rakes, tamps, shovels and hand tools etc…designed for baseball field maintenance.  We also brought our Cuban friends infield clays an conditioners from Duraedge and Diamond Pro.  We even shipped over a TORO Sand Pro, edgers , tillers , plate compactor , CoverMaster tarps, Beacon ballfield equipment , C&H cages,  OMG it was Feliz Navidad!!   To the point some of my Cuban friends began to cry.    Especially Oscar who had hand edged the entire field with a 3 ft machete for years.  He watched the new gas powered edger trim a line in minutes with disbelief.   I believe Juan was most excited about the big plastic tarp culvert for the new field tarp.   What they had before was a steel culvert that weighed 5 tons.  It was not movable unless you had 40 people.  They had no idea specialized hand tools had been designed for ballfields.  It was such a great feeling to give these products to the grounds staff at the stadium on behalf of MLB and the MLBPA.

Manual irrigation system

Having worked on this field for the Orioles vs Cuba game in 1999,  I had a pretty good idea what we were getting into.    In fact my old friends from that event Juan, Carton and Higinio were still working at the stadium.  Led by this group of my amigos we knew the people in Cuba were going to be 100% behind the project.   There were numerous moving parts to purchasing and sending equipment to Cuba.  Communication on the island was also difficult with no US cell phone service and what they had was very limited.   It took a HUGE team effort from a lot of folks including NYC MLB peeps (Mickey , James , Paloma and especially Jesse) to coordinate all the shipping docs, government approvals, and have the products arrive safely.

Of all the projects we had to complete , the infield renovation was the most challenging.  It required us to raise the homeplate grade 5 inches to level the area properly to meet MLB mound height requirements before resodding.  But that was the easy part.  The hard part was growing in the Bermuda turf grass plugs in a country that did not have testing labs to check local rootzone materials and topdressings an their  best fertilizers were for agricultural purposes, not sportsturf.  Great for tomatoes but grass…that was tough.   The 419 Bermuda sod was harvested from Indio Hatuey ( the countries agricultural center north of Havana near the beautiful Varadera golf course.)  Director de la OSTB,  Luis Oliveras  a local Turfgrass specialist had the turf grown to be the best it could be with the resources he had but once harvested it had a long way to go before it was playable.   The farm just had barely enough Bermuda plugs to finish the infield so the foul territory was grassed with a Zoysia.  The Zoysia and Bermuda were struggling from lack of consistent watering.  So we brought in reinforcements to help with the growin.  My good friend Cindy

murray on toroUnger from Palm Beach spent a month in Cuba.   A few days later, Luis an his team came up with an above ground irrigation system to assist with our water problem.   I even brought over Chad Price to take a look at the project. Chad Olsen and I assembled our Cuba Brightview sportsturf team which included STMA members Zach Severns Head GK from Augusta greenjackets, Anthony DeFeo Tennessee Smokies, Justin Sadowski from Potomac nationals,  Isaiah Lienau, NY Mets.    We also had a cameo visit from STM Neil Pate  ( dubbed director of paint).  Even old salemite Tracey Schneweis came over to the island to help us out.   It was a great team.   Chad and Eric Ogden had their hands full with the 2 WBC qualifier sites in Mexico and Panama.  Yes March was busy!

cuba field ready to go for 2016 eventThe field  played great as reported by several Rays players thanks to a massive team effort from both countries!   All in all, I made 5 visits to the country in 3 months which would end up totaling about 6 weeks on the island.   My Spanglish expanded but without Frans from INDER (our official government interpreter) we would have all been in trouble. He was so professional and ..healthy!

It was truly an honor to be a part of this historic event between our two countries but what I will take away from this more than its historical value are the friendships that were built to last a forever.  #amigosforlife #shoveldiplomacy

One great group of people!

KBO Hosts First Baseball Field Maintenance Clinic in Seoul


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Late last week the Korean Baseball Organization ( KBO) hosted the inaugural Baseball Field Maintenance Clinic at Jamsil Stadium.  The educational event was attended by ballpark operations and sportsturf managers from all the 9 Professional KBO clubs.    We covered a lot of ground in one day including mound and homeplate care, turf management and light repairs, but the best part was the interaction between each of the attendees.     One fun topic was sharing info about the STMA and how the organization brings people together to learn about ways to make their fields safer.  We even used our Korean slides Kim Heck put together!

korea liner

I really enjoyed watching the guys put the lines down at Jamsil with a very unique chalk marking system  Using a metal tube filled with chalk, one person would rake the tube over rails in the template which gently dropped the chalk in a nice line.  Pretty cool!

This group  had never been together in one room so when we went outside they began to exchange info and share stories about each others fields..or at least that is what my interpreter told me.    I would like to thank the KBO for hosting this wonderful event.

Natural Grass Facts for Sports


panama 2014 field photo

Back in 2005 I started Blogging for MLB.com.  My good friend Mark Newman thought a grounds keeping blog might be pretty unique to provide information to folks around the world related to taking care of sports fields and or your homelawn.   I’ve been asked some fun questions about my blog ( that I write out of the love for educating folks about the sportsturf industry).   Looking back at 2005 when I started at a few of the early blog stories , I came across one that highlighted some facts about natural grass.  A lot has happened in 9 years but one constant has been the evolution of better, stronger and more durable turfgrasses for our baseball fields.

During this crazy spring weather where we are seeing temps go from 80 degrees to 30 with snow OVERNIGHT,  i take my hat off to all the natural grass turf managers that get those fields ready everyday for the teams.  It’s a tough job and the average person has no idea what happens behind the scenes on a daily basis.  Not to mention the stress of making sure the field is safe for your players day in and day out.  Salud!

phase 1 complete!

Below are a few excerpts from the 2005 blog about some  turfgrass facts.

Blue grass, Bermuda grass, Zoysia, Buffalo, Rye grass, bent grass, Tifsport, 419, St Augustine, Bahia, 318, k-31, Limousine, U-3, Tifway, Fescue, Creeping red etc…  I could go on for days…Which one of these is not a real grass?   U-3 is what you call three grasses in your yard and you don’t know what they are!

Breaking it down to the basics:  Grass selection is based on Cool Season and Warm Season grasses and the mysterious transition zone.  Cool season grasses is what you have in your lawn from about the Maryland/Pennsylvania border north and warm season grasses start in Virginia and go south South. The transition line varies across the states. There are pockets in Virginia, Maryland, Texas and even Utah that you can grow both types…which explains the “transition zone”.  Picking your grass should begin with the zone you are in.  From that point you can get really creative with 1000’s of varieties of grasses.  The bottom line…keep it simple.  Don’t go crazy with a bunch of different seed choices in your lawn.  That could lead to a bunch of fungus problems.  2 or 3 varieties is OK but more than that is probably not necessary.

Here are some fun grass facts you can throw at the neighbor while you are out working in your lawn!

FACT– The first white house lawnmower. Washington and Jefferson used sheep to keep the lawn under control!

FACT– “There are over 200 varieties of tall type fescues in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Delaware.  The type everyone knows about in the store and probably the first type…was K-31.

FACT– The grass seed state is Oregon with sales over 300+ million per year.

FACT– In the 1800’s golf courses in the UK were infected with a pests called ….. Earth worms!  This resulted in some of the great courses in Scotland developing along the seashores. Worms do not care for the salty/sandy soils.  In the US, night crawlers are actually good for the earth!

FACT – Groundskeeping is actually Mankinds first profession:  Genesis 2:15 …. The LORD God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it.  

FACT– First lawnmower. invented by Edwin Budding in the early 19Th century. In 1870, Elwood McGuire designed a mower that made a big impact on the homeowner. By 1885, the USA was building 50,000 push mowers a year and shipping them everywhere.

FACT– A survey in 1994 listed 43 million acres of turf in the US.

FACT– The cooling power of grass!  8 average front lawns have the cooling power of 70 tons of air conditioning. (The average home has a 3 to 4 ton central unit)

FACT– Fresh Air… a 50×50 square pieces of grass generates enough oxygen for a family of four.  As mother natures filter it absorbs carbon monoxide, nitrates and hydrogen fluoride and releases oxygen.

FACT– Last one – A test was conducted by dropping 12 eggs onto a dense small piece of natural grass from 11 feet. NONE BROKE!  On a thin turf piece 8 broke…. and all 12 broke when dropped from 18 inches onto a rubberized track. 

Have fun!!

America’s Front Lawn is planning a Makeover


The National Mall is planning a much-needed renovation of a few of  the 30+ panels this year and the first phase is slated to begin late this summer.  www.nationalmall.org/nationalmall.php    What a great project and something ( Brickman‘s Sportsturf team) is excited to be a part of as the official turf consultant for the “Trust for the National Mall“.   Over 20 million people see the Mall every year.  The parks service issues around 3000 permits for multiple functions and one of the main complaints from people  is how it always looks.  Trying to compare this venue to anything else in the world is really difficult so we looked at every park and various large sports complex operations that appeared similar.    Keeping grass growing is tough in this transistion zone area …. much less trying to  keep it green with millions of people walking on it.    It’s a 3 pronged approach which includes renovating the lawn with better soils , drainage. and an irrigation system, managing the events a little differently and updating the maintenance operations.   The National Parks Service does an unbelievable job taking care of the mall with the resources they have.   With budget cuts and more people wanting to use the Mall it really is amazing what they achieve with so little. 

Sometimes when I talk to  people about the “Mall” in DC they really think I am talking about a shopping center.  Then I tell them its America’s front lawn and ….I get the AHA moment .  

There is a slate of turf folks involved in some capacity with this renovation including Dr. Peter Landshoot-Penn State,  Dr  Norm Hummel ,  Dr  Mike Goatley- Virginia Tech Turfgrass – Mike and his  folks are  working on a study regarding  turf protective coverings for events.  Steve LeGros  is helping with the fertility planning, etc…  All great turf people.

The renovation will involve removing existing soils, amending them,  adding drains and new irrigation and installing a few cisterns –  Each are 150’ x 34’ wide  x 10’tall.  250,000 gallons each and there are 2 in the 1st phase.   Completely irrigated turf areas with an automatic system and a full underdrainage system that will assist in collecting the rain water to fill the cisterns  .  Seed selection was fun –  After a full review of local seed varieties Peter and Steve narrowed down a 4 way blend of grass seed that everyone agreed on.  30% Wolfpack 2 Tall fescue, 30% Firenza Tall fescue, 30% Turbo Tall fescue and 10% P-105 Kentucky Bluegrass      HOK is the Architect of record.

More to come as this project develops.

Building a new Baseball field?


Mlbphotos_2 This question comes across my desk a couple times a week.  I normally give the same answer. “It depends…on a lot of things!”  If you have bare areas of turf, or the grass is growing all over your infield and the lips on the field look like they are a foot high….. you need to do something.  Just remember, its not only what you do to improve your field, it also how you go about it and to what level!

Here are few pointers that may be helpful as you plan:

1. Evaluate what type and how many events are held on the field. You don’t want to be in a situation where you do a great job with the renovation only to find out your back in the same place again the following year.

2.  Determine your budget after you find out how often the field will be used.  This will help determine what type and level of field you will have to build.  The more the use….the more you should invest in the construction of the field.  Also determine the time you have to re-build your field? Fall , Spring or maybe you only have a 7 day window?

3.  Make sure you have someone on staff that understands field construction and specifications so they can help you design exactly what you if not seek help from your local university or extension service.

4.  Plan for maintenance operations.  Assess your maintenance budget because that may be the weak link in your field operation.  A great field can turn into a bad field very quickly without proper maintenance.

A general rule of thumb, If your field is over half covered with weeds its time to replace the turf.  Trying to change it back to one healthy grass is possible but it will take a few years.

Good Luck !

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