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03/31/08 4:21 PM ET
Progressive Field playable, if not perfect
Grounds crew works overtime to get surface ready
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
CLEVELAND -- That the ball came out of C.C. Sabathia's hand at 3:05 p.m. ET on Monday, as scheduled, was viewed by Brandon Koehnke as nothing less than a minor miracle. Just six days earlier, Koehnke, the head groundskeeper at Progressive Field, looked out at a field of ice and dead grass and wondered how in the world the Indians would be able to play their opener. "We hadn't put a mower on the field," Koehnke said. "We hadn't packed the pitcher's mound. We hadn't measured the bases and found the old anchors in there, let alone uncovered home plate. There were two inches of ice over the top of home plate. The first thing in your mind is, 'Where do you start?'" Mother Nature caused this mess, dumping record amounts of snow on Northeast Ohio throughout the month of March. And last week's forecast of cold and rain didn't make Koehnke feel any better. But the skies cleared just enough for Koehnke's eight-man crew to get some work in. "Wednesday was supposed to be a lousy day, and it ended up being a decent day," Koehnke said. "You take 'em when you can get 'em." When the crew took those first steps on the infield Wednesday, it was evident this was going to be no easy project. "It was like a cranberry bog," Koehnke said. "You sunk down in there a good three or four inches." Somehow, the field was ready by Monday. Not that it was all that aesthetically pleasing to behold. The grass wasn't anywhere near its midsummer, vibrant green shade. "If the soil temperature is 34 degrees, the soil temperature is 34 degrees," Koehnke said. "There's not much you can do about it. Grass isn't going to respond to soil that's under 45 degrees. It's just not going to happen." The infield dirt, though, looked surprisingly ... well, normal. "I talked to a couple of the infielders [Sunday], and they were really happy with the way the ball was bouncing," Koehnke said. "That's the main thing. Aesthetically, it can be purple, and it doesn't matter. If it's taking bad hops, that's when we've got issues." Koehnke has dealt with his fair share of issues in the past year. But the fact that Monday's game was able to be played was a step above the '07 disaster, when Koehnke had to orchestrate a memorable attempt to clear the field as a blizzard descended upon the home opener. It was suggested to Koehnke that he should ask for a raise, given the overtime hours he's logged because of Mother Nature's demands. "I'll remember you said that," he replied with a laugh.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.