Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers, traded in its patchwork-patterned turf for a new HGT Kentucky bluegrass field just one week before Opening Day and on the heels of a late-March snowfall.
The Tigers’ grounds crew aimed to install a new field before the 2013 season and after Detroit’s Hockeytown Winter Festival, a winter event where the NHL installs a hockey rink in the stadium for a series of games. The NHL lockout postponed the event, which unintentionally postponed the resodding. The field was last resodded in 2007.
Heather Nabozny is the head groundskeeper at Comerica Park. The 2014 season marks her 16th year with the Tigers. Prior to joining the Tigers, she was with their minor league team, the West Michigan Whitecaps, in Grand Rapids, Mich.
“You need to plan on replacing your field (after hockey and concerts) because it’s not going to survive all that weight and damage,” Nabozny explained in a phone conversation before the Tigers’ first away series.
She and her crew conducted research and weather studies only to find that other parks that host similar hockey events – such as Boston, Cleveland, Chicago and New York – don’t experience temperatures as cold as Detroit. To avoid having to remove a frozen field in spring, the crew decided to remove it in the fall of 2013.
In November 2013, Illinois-based Bush Turf removed about 700 tons of turf and organic matter from the park over the course of one week. A 103,000-square-foot geotextile fabric was laid over the field to protect the root zone.
“We got everything as close to being ready for sod as possible so that in the spring time, once things started to thaw out a little bit, we could start with a touch-up grade and then lay the sod,” Nabozny says.
Removing the turf in the fall was key. As the spring of 2014 arrived, snow continued to cover the field, leaving a small window of time for installation.
“We didn’t have any time. The days were dwindling down,” Nabozny says.
Two weeks before Opening Day, there was a slight break in the weather. The 100-percent-sand base didn’t hold much moisture, so it thawed out somewhat quickly.
If there had been turf on top of the sand, the finer textured soils would have taken much longer to thaw out, according to Nabozny.
The preparation of uncovering the field, grading and adding sand took a few days, and the remaining installation, again by Bush Turf, took five.
“[Colorado’s] soil is unbelievable,” Nabozny says. “The sand is somewhat angular so there’s stability to it.”
Colorado experienced its own round of late-season snow, which delayed transportation. Cutting sod with a top layer of snow causes machines to act as if the sod is thicker than it really is, resulting in thinner sod. To be safe, the sod was delivered over the course of three days while snow was being removed.
The installation at Comerica Park was finished by March 24, one week prior to Opening Day. A uniform field finally stands in place of mismatched turf.
“Looking back at it, it was a very fortunate thing,” Nabozny says. “If we didn’t take the field out [in fall], it would have been real trouble.”
As for the park’s new field, Nabozny deems it a success, despite the setbacks.
“Unbelievable” is how Nabozny describes the field’s first home stand performance.
“I’m super excited about this grass,” she says.
The Detroit Tigers opened their 2014 season with two wins against the Kansas City Royals. Although the snow had ceased, the third game of the series was postponed due to rain.
Photos: Detroit Tigers