‘We did a few things right’

October 4, 0209  - By

Eugene Mayer served as the turf consultant at Nationwide Park

COLUMBUS, OH — “We did a lot of things right,” said Eugene Mayer, longtime athletic turf consultant. What he meant by that is that as he looked back on the new Minor League baseball field that he and grounds manager Colin Lattimore helped build this past year, there were a few things they would have done differently.

Eugene Mayer served as the turf consultant at Nationwide Park

Mix-ups and oversights can be very serious indeed when building a half-million-dollar baseball field inside of a brand new stadium.

Fortunately for Mayer, Lattimore and the Columbus Clippers organization, the playing field ended up being a beauty (and durable) in spite of several setbacks during construction. Indeed, the new Huntington Park earned “2009 Ballpark of the Year” by Digitalballparks.com. and also by baseballparks.com, and was packed for almost every home game. Huntington Park is located in a renovated downtown section of the city and is adjacent to Nationwide Arena, home of the NHL Columbus Blue Jackets.

Mayer, who is retired from The Scotts Company and farms 400 acres of beans and corn in nearby Marysville, OH, took on the consulting job partly because of a 10-year relationship with Colin Lattimore, the Clipper’s grounds manager.

Colin Lattimore kept the field attractive for more than 200 events

“Colin works everyday. I work when I feel like it,” joked Mayer at a recent field day at the stadium.

That’s a bit of an understatement. He and Colin put in a lot of hours in getting the field built and ready for play this season. And what a season it turned out with more than 200 events on the playing field.

One of the first decisions to be made, said Mayer, was the rootzone of the field. After serious discussion focusing on a sand-capped field, then a sand-based field containing poly fibers for more stability, Mayer’s proposal for a sand-based field was favorably received. He proposed a rootzone mixture of 90% sand and 10% of peat, silt and soil, 10-in.-deep over four inches of pea gravel.

“I’ve had some experience with fibers and they can be a nuisance for a grounds manager,” said Mayer.

To make sure the mixture would work, he sent samples to soil scientist Norm Hummel in New York State, who determined it would work and provide adequate drainage.

The sand/soil mix was spread over the washed gravel layer and the 4-in. drain tiles spaced about 20-ft. apart across the field. Mayer and Lattimore then tilled in a fertilizer containing a heavy dose of phosphorus, potassium and minor nutrients. Lattimore walked the field every day checking the consistency and depth of the rootzone mix.

On Oct. 22 Tuckahoe Turf Farms, a 1200-acre spread in New Jersey, delivered the 100% blend of Kentucky bluegrass sod to the stadium.

Lattimore gives OSTMA members a walking tour of Huntington Park

“The sod was grown on sand,” said Mayer. “We considered washed sod but I haven’t had good experiences with it.”

Mayer admitted that he was a bit concerned about the sod because neither he nor anyone else on the project had gone to the farm in New Jersey to watch it being harvested.

“If you’re going to spend a lot of money on this type of project you better have somebody out here looking at the sod,” advised Mayer. “In this case it turned out ok anyway. They cut it one night and it was here the next morning.”

Something else he would have done differently is that he would have watered the sod sooner after it arrived, and not allowed it to go without water for three hours as it did. In fact, he said, there should be person with a hose even as the sod is being laid.

What they did do right was to test the field’s Hunter irrigation system several weeks prior to the sod’s arrival, so water was available during the laying of the grass.

It took three days to lay the sod, which required about 150 patches said Mayer, something that probably could have been prevented (at least to that extent) with more attention to the sod itself.

Once the sod was in place and it received another fertilization, the attention of the crew turned to the warning track. At the suggestion of Dan Almond, the Colorado-based field designer who oversaw the project, the decision was made to use of ground up and sized lava rock.

Mayer praised the dedication of sports field manager Lattimore and said the Emch Brothers, the contractor hired to install the field, was a pleasure to work with.

By the time April 18, 2009, rolled around the playing surface was in great shape for the sold out home opener for the Triple A Columbus Clippers baseball team.

The Kansas City firm of 360 Architecture designed the stadium and oversaw its construction by Turner Construction.

Mayer emphasized that even the best designed plans often need revision and is often the true test of a grounds manager’s skills.

“We made our plan, but two or three days later we would have to change them because conditions change,” said Mayer, during a short presentation at the fall field day of the Ohio Sports Turf Managers Association in September, just after the conclusion of the baseball season.

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