By Ashley Dunkak
COMERICA PARK (CBS DETROIT) – Thanks to months of seemingly constant snow and unrelenting below-freezing temperatures, the process of laying a new field for Comerica Park turned out to a bit more interesting than anticipated.
“It’s been very difficult,” head groundskeeper Heather Nabozny said Friday. “We’ve had to remove snow twice. One time it was almost 11 inches. The next time, we had to remove four before we could even start to think about grading the field and laying the sod and then getting warm enough temperatures during the day to lay the sod, wait until our field thawed. Sand doesn’t hold much moisture, so it thaws a lot quicker than finer-textured soils – the warning track, the infield, the mound.
“We heated those areas – the mound, the plate, the infield skin, with large heaters and a tarp, so we melted the frost out of there,” Nabozny continued. “It’s been a challenge.”
For all the trouble the winter weather caused Nabozny and the rest of the Detroit Tigers grounds crew as they worked to prepare the playing surface for Opening Day, the process could have been even more hectic.
“We were able to take the [old] field out in the fall, which helped out a bunch. If we weren’t able to do that, then I probably wouldn’t have slept all winter,” Nabozny said. “We took out, oh gosh, 700 tons of root zone and organic material, so then we had to add 700 tons of material, grade it all out. It’s a big process. So we got it close so that in the spring time all we had to do was come in, touch it up and lay the sod.”
The process of laying the field took several days. Arriving from Colorado, the sod came to Comerica in climate-controlled trucks, their temperatures kept at 50 degrees so the sod would not freeze. Cut into strips measuring 40 feet by 4 feet, each piece of sod weighs more than a ton. The transport took 35 semis.
Despite the less-than-ideal conditions of this winter and the way it delayed the laying of the field, Nabozny said she is not worried about the grass. The huge pieces of sod get locked into place by a special machine that slams each strip next to the previous one, packing the pieces together so tightly that one cannot see or feel the seams between them.
Just like players get anxious for Opening Day, though, the groundskeeper admitted she had some nerves as the project commenced.
“Just before we started laying it, I got nervous just out of nerves, and woke up, I got to work, we started laying the sod and my cares of nervousness just went away,” Nabozny said with a smile. “It’s really solid. I’m very, very pleased with it.”
The field had last been replaced in 2007, and the concerts held at Comerica usually result in pieces of sod being replaced, a process that over time resulted in a somewhat unattractive patchwork. Eminem and Rihanna perform together at Comerica on Aug. 22 and Aug. 23, but Nabozny did not seem too concerned about the effect the event will have on the new field’s appearance.
“Concerts, if it gets damaged, then we’ve got to replace it,” Nabozny said. “We’ve got a brand-new field now. When we do replace sod for the concerts, we’re going to have the same sod that we had put in this year coming out of Colorado, so it’ll match up nicely. It’s when the field starts to get a little bit older [that the replacement pieces do not match]. Even when it’s the same cultivars, they don’t grow the same and they don’t absorb the sun, fertilizer, water, all that stuff the same.”
The concert is still months away, however, and for the first time in quite a while, the Tigers should not have to worry about the weather. As of Sunday afternoon, the forecast for Monday was 55 degrees and mostly sunny.