Last September, after another Phish Fest overran DICK’s Sporting Goods Park, and the Colorado Rapids closed out their second-to-last home game against the San Jose Earthquakes, the stadium’s turf management staff eagerly kicked off a herculean undertaking-replacing the overworked grass carpet in their venue, that was officially on christened on April 7, 2007.
Since late mid-September, the turf troupe has been meticulously nurturing over 100,000 square feet of transplanted Kentucky Bluegrass, locally known to horticulturists as Colorado’s Choice Bluegrass.
When the labor-intensive project started, the Burgundy Wave caught up with the stadium green thumbs and unleashed a volley of How do they do it? questions.
From Farm to Table
While the expansive swath of sod was being readied for delivery from Graff’s Turf in Fort Morgan to Commerce City, the stadium turf team was directing the removal of the existing pitch. Concurrently, they were prepping a slab of condensed sand about the area of a big city block in my once-upon-a-time hometown of Manhattan.
First, they minced up the top three inches of the existing field and had it relocated to an always-free DICK’s parking lot.
This step in the well-orchestrated production produced enough organic material to load up to 65 modern-day dump trucks. It took approximately three, 12-hour days to complete.
Appreciating that the mulched-up mixture of sand and rich organic matter was high in plant nutrients, the crew opted to repurpose it versus sending it to a landfill.
From the parking lot they moved and distributed the hardy mulch as a top dressing on all of the grass fields that surround the stadium complex.
These grass fields are employed by Rapids 2, Development Academy, Colorado Rapids Youth Soccer Club, and local recreation adult leagues.
This Burgundy Wave scribe learned that top dressing is a practice that evenly spreads out organic raiment over large surface areas. The benefits included smoothing out playing fields, and introducing nutrients to the perpetually hungry grass fields. More so it provides a stabilizing layer around the grass plant’s crown so that the head can better handle high-traffic soccer games and training sessions, including the next generation of Homegrown players, who aim to supplant the likes of Oli Larraz, Darren Yapi, Cole Bassett and Abraham Rodriguez.
The science-mind staff then assessed the soil that was beneath the now-retired 16-year-old pitch.
Analytical tests indicated that plenty of nutrients were still pent-up in the sub-surface. Instead of supplementing the soil, they spread a high calcium-gypsum product that released some of the trapped plant food for the incoming sod to eventually soak up.
Next, the sandy table was thoroughly watered, compressed and finally, laser leveled. The compacting steps mitigate the formation of manly footprints and/or landscaping vehicle tire ruts under the grass.
The team caught a big break just as the project commenced. On Day-1, nearly two inches of rain fell at the sod farm. Fortunately, the lawn did not drown, nor get torn or eviscerated by the sprigging machinery at the farm.
Credit the farm’s greensward types for that success story, otherwise, the project would have faced a major setback.
DICK’s staff was under the pressure to lay down the new field before the important final home match against rival Dallas on October 1. They were also mindful that the sod needed their tender loving care to grow-in, in the event the stars above the soccer-specific stadium aligned correctly. the Rapids’ possibly, could have hosted a few home-based playoff games.
A convoy of flatbed trucks delivered the freshly harvested sod carpets. Despite the actual playing surface being 105,000 square feet, upwards of 112,000 square feet of grass were installed.
Using specialty tools, the 42” wide by 90’ long by 1.5” rolls were pushed together to very tight specifications. Today, the field looks like a work of art, and to the naked eye and Apple TV viewers- seamless.
This novel roll-out technique compacts the width of the sod which results in the crew being able to install more square footage. A significant bonus from this process is the development of a denser grass canopy. The leading benefit of a dense playing surface is fewer divots are created during practice and play.
According to the work party, they are partial to Colorado’s Choice Bluegrass. It is a compilation of many different cultivars that boast several worthy characteristics-high drought resistance, dark green color, and a built-in comfort level of being cut down to a half-inch height.
Like Diego Rubio is an assertive striker, this hybrid brand of grass has a reputation for being an aggressive grower. That helps the overall field recover quickly after Rapids’ games that often go deep into stoppage time.
Together, these attributes make the grass ideal for the extra-long MLS season and the regular mood swings in the weather along the Front Range mountains.
Having the ability to reliably grow sturdy grass from February through the first week of December is important-not only for player safety and overall aesthetics but also for consistent match-day performance.
Post-project, the field has been treated with white gloves. Stimulating fast grow-in was next on the troupe’s to-do list. And with that, another science fair-like study was kicked-off.
A mix of quantitative soil tests and plant tissue examinations were performed in order to accurately measure available nutrients, and then surmise what is lacking to underwrite the steady growth of the grass.
The turf squad fertilizes their fields using a technique called “spoon feeding.” This method involves applying small quantities of plant food at high-frequency rates. It is a win-win method that keeps the sod thriving. It also keeps the operation under budget and friendly to the environment by not over-applying fertilizer.
Both phosphorus and potassium are deployed from fertilizer broadcasters. The former stimulates rooting, seeding, and cell division. That guarantees that the rolls of turf will establish properly in the soil.
The mineral potassium plays an important role in many of the plant’s physiological cycles, including the synthesis of carbohydrates, peptides and protein enzymes within the grass cells. Together, these biochemicals and their bi-products improve the plant’s overall hardiness and ability to ward off common plant pathogens.
As for the picture-perfect color of the pristine grass that in-stadium and television-viewing fans love to admire-the team distributes nitrogen, magnesium, and iron at different times during the year to keep the field glowing and boasting its St. Patrick’s Day brilliant green color.
Overall the installation took 30 hours to complete.
As for the art part, the game-day cut design is ultimately decided by the tuff boss. However, the league does have certain mandates that turf managers must be mindful of- select a coif design that assists the referees with their offsides calls. Imagine that.
The Extended Warranty Plan
After the field was groomed and buffed for play, team members shifted to a long-term maintenance and support mode. Their overriding goal is to keep the turf healthy and performing to high standing through near-daily maintenance and wellness checks.
Crews fill up divots at halftime and post-match with a mixture of sand, seed, and fertilizer to encourage rapid recovery. They spy for any raised seams. If one is discovered, it is promptly tamped down.
No ground staples or sutures are ever used. They are left to the team doctors and skilled trainers to employ on deep stud cuts that the players and even coaches develop, now and then.
Lastly, proper irrigation is critical to quench the thirst of the massive pitch. New sprinkler heads are installed as well as the plumbing lines when necessary. Timer and water valve boxes are inspected often.
Should a Woodhouse toad, garter snake, or our official Colorado State amphibian-the Tiger salamander be discovered in one of the handfuls of stopcock boxes, they are left untouched in their all-inclusive shelters.
The same goes for a random four-leaf clover. Such a rare gift from nature is admired by all, as the Rapids’ First Team cherishes all forms of good luck throughout a grinding season. Their resilient fans do as well. Heck, they even adore the great horned owls that perch in the stadium’s rafters, the prairie dogs and their staccato shouts from within the dirt parking lots, and Marco Van Bison, should the mascot make an appearance.