Major League Lawn Care: An Inside Look at Maintaining Championship Caliber Turf

Spring and Baseball in America

One of the most uniquely American springtime events is the return of the national pastime, baseball. Each spring, big league clubs trek to Florida or Arizona for Spring Training, youngsters register for little league and fans optimistically await the start of a new season, knowing that their team, for at least Opening Day, is in first place.

The image of a vibrant, green baseball field is a welcome reminder that the weather is improving and summer is just around the corner – but this iconic image does not manifest itself without effort. Across the country, well before seasons shift and temperatures rise, city park landscapers, schoolyard staff and major league grounds crews alike prep the green fields we know and love. Recently, We Seed America spoke with Jeff Wright, head groundskeeper for the National League’s Philadelphia Phillies, to learn what goes into creating and maintaining the iconic symbol that is the baseball diamond.

Becoming a Major League Groundskeeper

Jeff Wright is no stranger to baseball fields, having been with the Phillies organization since 1986. Back then, he worked part time as a “day of game” groundskeeper with ambitions to one day join the team as a graphic design artist. As time passed, Wright’s prowess maintaining the field and love for working outdoors helped him become something more of a grounds keeping artist, and he has worked full time on the Phillies’ grounds crew since 1990.

Beyond the basics of keeping the grass green and making sure the infield dirt is just right, there is a lot Jeff and his team must do to ensure the field it in tip top condition for game day. For example, certain varieties of grass may make the baseball roll too slow or too fast, and special decorations may be in order for postseason or World Series play. Maintaining a Major League playing field is a year long endeavor, and the challenge of keeping the field at Citizens Bank Park “the best there is in baseball” is something Jeff’s team strives for.

Major League Lawn Care

Getting a field into form for Opening Day begins with winterization steps taken just after the previous season ends, and does not look dissimilar from what is often recommended for homeowners’ lawns. According to Jeff, field winterization “might be somewhat a challenge in Philadelphia with the colder climate, but we overseed in the fall, put down our fertilizers and hope for the best.” Jeff noted there had been a few instances where particularly harsh conditions necessitated the use of winter blankets, but usually overseeding does the trick.

After winter comes Spring Training. Efforts to ready the Phillies’ facility in Clearwater, Florida begin in earnest in January and last throughout February. The impressive baseball complex includes 4 fields and over 20 pitching mounds, and requires a true group effort to maintain Major League standards.

Once the regular baseball season begins, ongoing maintenance becomes important, and this goes far beyond ensuring the grass is vibrantly green. Performance optimization is a chief concern, and feedback on the turf comes from players and coaches alike. Previously, Riviera Bermudagrass was used at Citizens Bank Park, but after hearing from players that this variety made the surface too quick, the grounds crew switched over to Kentucky bluegrass, which can be grown at a higher height than Bermudagrass and helps the game be played a little slower. Facing these sorts of challenges is something Jeff enjoys, and he is always looking for ways the turf can be optimized for performance.

Winning It All

Maintaining a major league-caliber playing surface is key to sustaining a high level of baseball prowess, which is why Jeff selected the Phillies’ 2008 World Series championship as his favorite moment as an MLB groundskeeper. According to Jeff, when the final out was made to clinch the victory, the scene on the field was “total euphoria” as players, coaches and the grounds crew all celebrated the accomplishment as one. After all, winning a championship in professional sports takes dedication at all levels, which is why Jeff and his crew were rewarded with their very own World Series championship rings, a fitting reward for countless hours of hard work and dedication.