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Green grass wasn’t easy after harsh winter

04/05/2014, 12:12am EDT
By JOHN WAGNER BLADE SPORTS WRITER

The grounds crew keeps the field dry Friday before the game against Louisville. The organization had more work than usual to get the field ready because of the tough winter.

Jake Tyler and the Mud Hens grounds crew did not need CNN or anyone else to tell them Toledo had the worst winter weather of any major city in the United States.

That’s what made the green grass that covered Fifth Third Field for Friday’s opening day all the more amazing.

“After the winter we’ve had, and from where this field has come in the last three weeks, I couldn’t be happier,” said Tyler, the team’s sports turf manager.

“Those past few days where we had 60 degrees and sunshine started some photosynthesis with the grass, so it’s really come together the past few days.

“We may have had other opening days where the grass was greener, but after the winter we had, I’d be lying if I said I was disappointed in any way.”

Tyler said the Mud Hens started to talk about removing the snow from the field around March 1.

“We had such a deep level of ice and snow on the field, we knew it wasn’t going to melt on its own,” he said. “We decided on the ‘heat dome’ that we tried, and it worked really, really well.”

The Hens’ heat dome consisted of the rain tarp placed on the infield, and one million BTUs of heat pumped under it. The hot air lifted the tarp off the ice and created the “dome” while also creating a temperature of 75 degrees under the tarp.

“What that did is melt all the snow on the dirt portions where you see the rain tarp on the field,” Tyler said. “That allowed us to get on the dirt about two weeks earlier than we normally would have.”

Tyler said the dome helped more with getting the infield dirt ready than it did with growing the infield grass.

“On opening day, everybody likes to see the green grass,” he said. “That’s what we do for the fans: Especially with the winter we had, the fans get to see green grass.

“But that’s only about 10 percent of our job. The majority of our job is the dirt: the mound, the basepaths, and the infield ‘skin’ portion where the infielders stand.”

The idea was to make the dirt smooth and consistent as well as solid enough to maintain that consistency.

Once the infield work had started, Tyler and his staff began removing the snow from the outfield, which was especially difficult in right field, where there was no sun to help with melting.

“We had to hand-shovel all of those areas,” Tyler said. “It took us about 13 days to remove the snow, because we had to be delicate and not damage the turf underneath.”

Tyler singled out assistant turf manager Cory Myers along with Justin Adkins, Tyler Strauer and Chris Chapinski for their work.

Infielder Marcus Lemon, who took grounders on the infield Wednesday, gave a thumbs up to the work Tyler and his staff put into getting the field ready.

“It was smooth and gave us true hops,” he said. “It was nice to be on a field that is taken care of as well as this field is.”

PLUS ONE: Louisville catcher Corky Miller added to his Fifth Third Field legacy by starting behind the plate for the Bats.

Miller remains the only player to ever play at least one game at Toledo’s home ballpark in each of the 13 seasons it has been open.

BUNTS: Friday’s crowd of 12,787 was the 329th sellout in Fifth Third Field history. … The loss was the Hens’ second consecutive season-opening loss to the Bats, as well as the team’s second straight home-opening loss. Toledo has lost six of its last seven home openers but is 5-4 when opening the season at Fifth Third Field. … Since returning in 1965, the Mud Hens are 25-25 in season openers.

Contact John Wagner at: jwagner@theblade.com, 419-724-6481 or on Twitter @jwagnerblade.

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