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Comerica to get first full resodding since '07

Groundskeeper Nabozny and crew have small window to put new grass in place

DETROIT -- Tigers groundskeeper Heather Nabozny has plenty of questions on the job nowadays, the most immediate being how the artificial surface at Met Life Stadium will handle any more winter storms ahead of the Super Bowl. As part of the big game's groundskeeping staff for the 11th time, she gets the rare treat of dealing with snowy weather.

Once she returns to Detroit, she'll be dealing with the winter snow pack atop the playing field at Comerica Park. For the first time in a few years, however, she won't have to tackle the questions about the patchwork pattern in grass.

The patches are out. After a long wait, the field is being resodded.

"I'm excited," Nabozny said in a phone conversation between shifts at Met Life Stadium.

It'll be the first full resodding at the park since 2007. It's longer than usual, and a year later than planned.

The resodding plans coincided with the Hockeytown Winter Festival, which turned the surface into a hockey rink for college and NHL alumni matches leading up to the NHL's Winter Classic down the road at Michigan Stadium. Those festivities, of course, were scheduled for last December before the NHL lockout postponed the events for a year.

That postponement kept the Tigers grass in place for another year, and kept the grounds crew trying to maintain it. And the spots in the outfield, where patches of grass had to be replaced after summer concerts, had to be maintained. The concert setup, with a stage in center field, is the reason behind the odd grass pattern.

The field held up, but it played better than it looked, with different shades of green in different parts of the outfield. Thus, time and again, Nabozny had to answer the same question.

"There's always places where we have to replace sod during the season," Nabozny said. "We always try to do it with the same grass. It's just that the field was so much older when they replaced them, so you had those spots."

The order of Kentucky bluegrass the Tigers had planned, meanwhile, was on hold. They ended up contracting with a turf farm in Fort Morgan, Colo., for the supply. The St. Louis Cardinals, Nabozny said, used the same outfit when they had to resod their field last fall following a college football game at Busch Stadium. It's a heavier sod with more soil, which should allow it to take root easily.

It's going to be a while before that happens. The grass is still in Colorado and will likely remain there until at least early March. The winter conditions in Michigan, especially this winter, shortens the timetable between a ground thaw and Opening Day.

The last time the Tigers resodded the field, the new grass arrived in 16 climate-controlled trucks. With a heavier turf, Nabozny said, it'll probably take the same size convoy.

The hope is that while the Tigers are getting ready for the season in Spring Training games in Lakeland, Fla., the grounds crew will be putting the new sod in place in Detroit to get ready for their return.

"That's what I'm hoping for, mid to late March," Nabozny said.

The Tigers open the season at home this year, and they open early. Their March 31 Opening Day matchup against the Royals marks the earliest game at Comerica Park on the calendar since 2008. That game had a first-pitch temperature of 51 degrees, which Detroit would gladly take again for the end of March.

The key will be how much earlier temperatures creep above freezing long enough for the ground to thaw. A full thaw would allow them to install the field all at once. Otherwise, they might have to do it in segments.

"The last part of the field to thaw out generally is very deep center, along the warning track, because of the shade line," Nabozny said. "The infield is always first to thaw out."

None of that will be evident when fans file into Comerica Park for TigerFest on Saturday. The old sod was removed in November, before the ice rink equipment came in. The surface now consists of a woven fabric with a filter to prevent anything from getting into the field.

The good news for Nabozny and her crew is that once they do put the field in place, it'll be easy for them to replace patches as needed and keep the field looking good. The same type of bluegrass that's going in is expected to be available at a sod farm in Michigan.

In the meantime, if a snowy Super Bowl is the worst of her weather concerns, it wouldn't be all that bad.

Jason Beck is a reporter for Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.

Detroit Tigers