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Getting turf planted in the nick of time

May 15, 2020  - By
Mark Razum, head groundskeeper of the Colorado Rockies tends to the infield at Coors Field. (Photo: Colorado Rockies)

Mark Razum, head groundskeeper of the Colorado Rockies tends to the infield at Coors Field. (Photo: Colorado Rockies)

Renovating a field in any circumstances can be a challenge. In the case of the Colorado Rockies, the field renovation and heating system update included a snowstorm that put the project two weeks behind and a delayed start of the season due to the coronavirus.

The delayed start turned out to be a blessing in disguise, however, as it allowed the crew plenty of time to tend to the new turf.

“It was kind of fortunate how things worked out,” he says. “If we would have had another week of weather or a snow delay, we probably wouldn’t have the field in at this point. We feel fortunate to have everything done.”

When Coors Field, home of the National League’s Colorado Rockies, replaced a boiler system in the ballpark, the team also opted to replace the original heating system and the turf.

“It gave us an opportunity to switch out the old electrical system to a hydronic system,” says Mark Razum, head groundskeeper for Coors Field. “Coors Field is 25 years old. It’s the fifth-oldest ballpark in the league.”

Razum says the project began at the end of the 2019 season and involved excavating the field down to the original drainage field.

“We kept the original drainage system intact. It was still functioning very well,” Razum says.

The team worked with The Motz Group to facilitate the updates which include a new hydronic heating system. The team started with the tubing for the new system and then rebuilt the root zone.

Challenges at the end of 2019 included two significant snowstorms that put the project behind two weeks. The team also installed a new warning track, infield and pitcher’s mound, which took about six weeks once the calendar rolled to 2020. The Rockies opted for a 95 percent sand, 5 percent peat moss mix in rebuilding the root zone.

“We just felt like we were able to build up our organics a little bit quicker over time,” he says. “We’re looking for more of that drainage, just on the experience of going a little bit heavier. I felt like we had a lot of pockets of peat in certain areas.”

Razum says the move also helped cut costs a bit, and he felt it was the right move after talking to colleagues around the league who have a similar mix.

The turf is a four-blend Kentucky bluegrass grown on plastic mulch. Before harvesting, supplier Green Valley Turf built it up to an inch thickness in a little more than a full growing year.

“They were able to seed it and get it growing in September of 2018 and then grow it through a full year,” he says. “I wanted to have that plastic-grown [turf] and an exact match of our root zone to the sod root zone.”

With the project being delayed, the installation of sod started on March 9.

“Our sod farm is only about an hour away from the stadium,” Razum says. “We were experiencing cold winter trying desperately to get ground temperatures warm enough to where we could harvest. We covered it, but unfortunately, Mother Nature kind of takes over.”

Once the weather broke, it took three days to install the sod, and on March 12, Major League Baseball announced it would delay the start to the 2020 regular season due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, right as the installation wrapped up.

The goal with sodding was to ready for the Rockies’ first homestand April 3, and Razum says that’s also why he opted for 1-inch thickness and added some extra nutrients to get the turf growing quicker.

“We were able to establish good soil temperatures with the new heat system right away,” he says. “While we were waiting for the sod to arrive, even though it was still frozen at the farm, we had soil temps of 55 to 60 degrees F. Once that new sod hit the field, it was like it was on vacation in Hawaii. It was happy and started pushing roots.”

He says he’s been pleased with the hydronic system, noting how it in past springs, it was harder to get the field going.

“The uniformity and the response of how quickly this hydronic system works, it’s pretty awesome,” Razum says. “The cost savings of running this versus that old electrical system is a third of what we were spending before.”

For now, Razum says crews mow three days a week, every other day. His staff of four rotates just to keep up with the bare minimum.

“We kind of splitting things up during the week alternating a bit, just so there’s a couple of us here at a time,” he says. “Once we get closer to the season, we’ll be able to bring in our seasonal staff and start detailing things a little bit more like the edging. It’s a little shaggy right now, which drives me nuts, but we’ll get it cleaned up one of the days.”

However, he admits enjoying a slower pace to the start of the season.

“It was nice because I got to spend time with the family,” he says. “In March, we’re going dawn till dusk getting ready.”

But, as a sports turf manager, he admits he’s also a creature of habit, and this unknown is an unusual situation.

“Right now, we’re well established, and we’re ready for baseball,” he says. “It’s more of that we’re just kind of creatures of the schedule. Once we get the schedule, we want to know it and plan ahead of time. I feel for everybody — all the sports programs, all the parks and rec guys, the city guys, all of us. We’re in this thing together and hopefully, they’re able to maintain their fields to some degree.”

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