The East Coast heat wave has made life miserable for everyone, especially major-league groundskeepers. Paul Zwaska, head groundskeeper for the Orioles, is in charge of ensuring that the field is moist and playable, climate notwithstanding. The Sun's Jason LaCanfora spoke with Zwaska see how he does it.
Q: What measures do you take when the temperature nears 100?
A: We use a lot of water to cool down the field. Unfortunately, we also have to spray quite a few chemicals to prevent fungus.
Q: Is the fungus a problem because of the humidity?
A: Yes. Saturday was the highest humidity I have ever had to deal with. We had to use heavy doses of fungicide to keep things from growing down there. We have to keep using more chemicals. That's not the best thing for the field.
Q: Did the weather last week make your job more difficult?
A: We're here at 8 in the morning anyway, and we work nonstop until the game ends. It was not the greatest day to work a 16-hour shift on Saturday. We were fighting the turf and trying to keep the crew alive.
Q: Is Baltimore one of the toughest places to grow grass?
A: Baltimore, along with St. Louis, Philadelphia and Kansas City, have the toughest grass-growing conditions. We are in a transition zone with high heat and high humidity. It's tough to grow Northern grass, like blue and rye, and Southern Bermuda grass from Texas or Florida. With a cooler climate, there would be no problems growing blue or rye, but in a transition zone you pick one or the other of either type. We have a mix of blue and rye. We grew both, but now I'm not sure it was the right move.
Q: Have you had any close calls with the field conditions?
A: Amazingly enough, we always seem to pull it off on time. At Memorial Stadium one night, the weather fooled us. We were told we'd only see light drizzle and didn't put the tarp down. Instead, we got 2 inches, but we still got it ready. The infield was very wet, but those things happen. The tarp blew off Saturday night with the high winds. We were fortunate that a maintenance man and a security guard got the field covered pretty well. There were 60 mph wind gusts that blew the tarp halfway off the infield. Weather is our biggest concern. We are like farmers; our crop is grass. We have the same worries as farmers. My wife is awfully sick of seeing the Weather Channel at home. We are always dialing in the radar and tracking the weather. Thankfully, my original major was meteorology.
Q: Will the Orioles' weeklong road trip help the field conditions?
A: It gives the field a rest from being mowed and trampled every day. Nothing allows a field to recuperate more than rest and a little natural rain. The infield suffers more because it gets no normal rainfall, since it is always covered. The break and some natural rain will get the field more healthy.