Mariners protect home turf by replacing it
Infield re-sodded for first time since Safeco opened
SEATTLE -- While most homeowners would kill for a lawn that looks as fresh and green as the Safeco Field grass, Bob Christofferson doesn't settle for anything less than perfection.
So it is that the Mariners will have a brand new infield when they play the A's in their home opener next April 13, with 23,000 square feet of fresh sod being laid at the stadium over the past four days as Christofferson and his grounds crew completed their biggest offseason project since Safeco opened in 1999.
Workers put the finishing touches on the new turf Wednesday afternoon, having removed about 120 tons of grass and sand and replacing it with a 100-percent Kentucky bluegrass surface that will be fully prepared for baseball by April.
"It's something you should probably do every 10 years or sooner," said Christofferson, the Mariners' head groundskeeper since 2000. "We were 12 years on this field. It was just time. It wasn't really out of whack. Probably 99 percent of all fields can play forever. But at this level you just shouldn't do that. It was as much what we were able to accomplish under the sod as it was having new sod."
Christofferson and his crew put in the final 3,000 square feet of turf on Wednesday, completing the process that replaced all the turf in the infield and in foul territory from behind home plate up to the edge of the outfield grass.
That outfield will be re-done as well at some point, but not this year.
"We want to do the whole field, but the timing wasn't right," Christofferson said. "We've done the hardest part, around the dirt and laser leveling out the infield. In the outfield, you can put a hydraulic laser on it and do it by machine. We'll do that eventually. Some of that is based on types of extra events [in the stadium over the offseason]."
How perfect is a Major League Baseball field? Christofferson says the new infield is now perfectly flat, while a laser measurement from the deepest point in center field to home plate shows a gradual rise of an inch and a half over that 405-foot distance. And, yes, that is why the outfield eventually will be redone as well.
"That's not bad after 12 years," Christofferson said. "You're sanding and aerifying all the time and adding material. Over time eventually it will raise up a little bit. They originally thought they might have to replace the field every couple years just because it wouldn't grow well with all the confines of the stadium and shade issues, but we've been able to maintain it. This was time to just do a fine tune."
The new surface is from Country Green Turf Farms of Olympia, the same supplier of the original Safeco Field turf. The old surface was composted and recycled by Cedar Grove Composting.
Christofferson said he would have loved to donate the old turf to a high school or community facility, but that is impossible with that type of surface.
"This type of sod, when we're sanding and aerifying on a regular basis, it's tough to pick up in one piece," he said. "Most sod farms, it's a soil base. We're a sand base. So it pretty much crumbles."
Christofferson and his crew will work the new soil carefully over the winter months. He'll leave the roof open most of the offseason to let the natural light and rain work its magic, along with help from heating coils to promote root growth.
"We don't have any events until January, so we'll mow it, fertilize it and play with it. But mostly, we'll just let it grow," Christofferson said. "It should be fine when we open in April.
"I sent all my guys a text last night saying I'd give the whole project an 'A'. I think we did a good job. It's not like the old field was terrible, but we want it perfect. We want Camelot all the time."