A Lot of Lawn: Q&A With Nats Groundskeeper
Spring has sprung, and soon enough homeowners will be mulching, mowing, trimming and weeding. But if you think your backyard keeps you busy, consider the case of Larry DiVito. His yard measures 403 feet at its widest stretch, requires constant care and is seen by millions of people each year.
DiVito is in his third season as head groundskeeper for the Washington Nationals, and his 14th year directing grounds crew operations for major and minor league baseball teams. CWG caught up with DiVito to ask him about his new digs at Nationals Park, how the weather impacts his work, and his advice for the garden-variety gardener.
CWG: How does the weather factor into your day-to-day work?
DiVito: The weather is the primary influence on many of the decisions I make on a daily basis. I'm always thinking 12, 24, 36 hours ahead, especially when it comes to timing maintenance projects based on the weather. Sometimes rain can be a very good thing for me if timing is right.
Keep reading for more questions and answers. See NatCast for the forecast for tonight's game at Nationals Park.
In terms of the turf, I depend on weather data to time my mowing as well as my watering. If you see us mowing the outfield at 11 p.m. after a night game, it's likely because I expect a wet day ahead of us. The weather keeps this job from ever getting mundane, because we end up doing work in different ways so often due to changing conditions.
Leading up to a game, my most important decisions have to do with watering the dirt areas of the infield as well as the pitcher's mound. I factor in wind, relative humidity, cloud cover and what time of year it is as I maintain the infield dirt.
CWG: How has Nationals Park been designed to handle heavy rain?
DiVito: We have a standard gravity-fed drainage system here at the new park. The pipe size is excellent -- six-inch diameter pipes feed into a 24-inch collector pipe under the field root zone. The pipes are embedded in pea gravel and are spaced every 12 inches.
CWG: Where do you get your weather information from?
DiVito: My main source initially is the National Weather Service. We also contract with a meteorological consultant so that the umpires know we are getting some expert interpretation beyond just me looking at the radar.
CWG: Who makes the call to delay or postpone a game?
DiVito: Before the game begins, the team has control of the situation. Our front office will decide whether to delay or cancel the game. Once the game begins, the umpires, specifically the crew chief, have total control of the game. I must communicate with them and follow any orders they give me.
CWG: What is your most memorable weather experience during your career as a groundskeeper?
DiVito: In 1996, our tarp in Pawtucket (Boston Red Sox minor league team) was ripped in half by a thunderstorm. We still finished the game, though. And on April 1, 1997, we had 18 inches of snow fall on the field, nine days before the home opener. It all melted and we played.
CWG: How do you deal with the inherent uncertainty of weather forecast information?
DiVito: The uncertainty of forecasting makes the job interesting in the end. One skill I have developed is the ability to react quickly to problem conditions. So, if the forecast is wrong, so be it. I don't expect much out of forecasts more than a few days in advance. If the information is reliable a day or two ahead, I can react to most weather situations.
CWG: It's sunny and 70 degrees, not a cloud in the sky or any rain in the forecast -- what are you doing during the game?
DiVito: I'm by the dugout, watching every inning.
CWG: Now for the really important question: How do you make that curly 'W' show in the grass?
DiVito: The 'W' in the grass is outlined with a stencil and then mowed in with a walk-behind greens mower. Edges are defined with push brooms. By leaning the bluegrass in each direction, it reflects off of light and gives contrast.
CWG: Any tips for the green thumbs in our audience?
DiVito: The grass is alive every day -- don't ignore it.
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