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Challenges remain to get field ready

Challenges remain to get field ready

MINNEAPOLIS -- After leaving Target Field around 5:15 a.m. on Tuesday morning, having watched the ballpark's first section of grass get installed, Twins head groundskeeper Larry DiVito was back on the field less than seven hours later to give a tour of the changes that had occurred overnight.

DiVito showed off how nearly all of left field was covered in grass, and a strip of turf curved around the infield dirt on what will be the Twins' home playing field starting in April.

Since DiVito was hired to be the Twins head groundskeeper this past February, he has been hard at work in the planning stages of the field and putting in place the complex heating and drainage systems underneath the grass.

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But with the entire playing surface expected to be covered by grass on Friday morning, DiVito is beginning what will be a busy few months as he prepares the field for April 12, when the Twins are expected to host the Red Sox in Target Field's opener.

So what happens to that grass between now and Opening Day?

There is still quite a bit to do with the field, starting with the first cut of the grass, in about a week. But the main goal is to ensure that by the end of October, before winter hits, the Twins' first natural grass field in nearly 30 years will indeed be game-ready.

New home for the grass

Rain fell hard early Tuesday morning as the first wave of grass was finished being installed. It was perfect timing for DiVito, as it gave the grass the moisture it needed to take root in its new home. That natural watering was the first of many times the grass will be watered over the coming weeks, evidenced by the sprinklers that were hard at work again by Tuesday afternoon, as the sun shined down on the freshly laid grass.

When the rolls of grass arrived in Minneapolis, it was cut at 5/8 of an inch. DiVito said he'll let it grow to almost an inch before he makes the first cut around Sept. 1.

DiVito has yet to decide how much of the grass he'll cut at that time. It will depend, he said, on how quickly the fertilizer works on the grass and the roots take hold. The grass is expected to grow aggressively over its first month.

"September in this climate is a really good month for bluegrass," DiVito said. "It will thrive as long as we water it and stay on top of whatever nutrients it needs."

Prepping for winter

At some point in October, DiVito and his team will turn on the heating system below the grass for the first time and test it to make sure the temperature sensors are correct.

DiVito will then let the grass go naturally dormant, putting blankets on top of the grass at the time when it has stopped growing but still has its dark green color.

"The heat will run just enough to keep it from freezing in the winter," DiVito said. "It's going to be around 38 or 40 degrees, not much more than that. We'll see where we're at in late February and start dialing it up bit by bit. Hopefully by March 15, we'll have the temperature of the ground in the 60s."

As the outside temperature warms up, DiVito said the blankets will slowly be removed -- first during some warm days in March, and then hopefully when the ground is warm enough at night as well. It will be a trial-and-error process in the first year, DiVito said, learning exactly how the grass reacts to the climate.

The look for Opening Day

It hasn't exactly been decided yet, but when Target Field hosts its first game, the grass will likely will be around an inch -- a height that DiVito calls "neutral."

"An inch is not exceptionally fast or slow," DiVito said.

DiVito said he'll try to get plenty of input about the grass from manager Ron Gardenhire and some of the players. The groundskeeper expects to have some conversations about the length of the grass during Spring Training, but he plans to get more feedback after the club plays on the field for the first time during the exhibition games before the 2010 season officially opens.

"We'll see how the park plays and how the team looks," DiVito said. "A lot of that will play into how long the infield grass will be. You don't usually get too many requests on outfield changes."

A Field of Dreams

After working four straight nights installing the grass this week, DiVito will finally get to the job he really enjoys -- taking care of the actual field.

For what had been a surface covered mostly in sand, with a reddish-brown tint for the infield dirt added recently, will now be engulfed by a sea of green grass.

"It's exciting, but the best time is when contractor leaves and I get to do my own thing," DiVito said with a laugh. "That's probably the most fun. The second-best thing is when I get to stop wearing a hard hat."

Twins fans seem just as excited to see the field come to life. And while this is the second Major League stadium that DiVito has helped to open -- he was the Nationals' head groundskeeper when they opened their new park in 2008 -- he said there is a different feeling around this ballpark.

"It's been a nice surprise to see how interested the fans really are," DiVito said. "So many people haven't even been in here to get a feel for how warm the park is, the colors and the stone and everything. It's really going to be a nice surprise for people when they finally come to a game here."

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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