MASS-GROUNDS Apr-15-2008 (530 words) With photo. xxxn
Groundskeeper says ballpark grass will be safe from crowds
By Mark Pattison
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Despite the likelihood of some 5,000 pairs of feet tromping on top of the field at the brand-new Nationals Park in Washington -- quite a few more than on the field during baseball games -- the grass underneath their feet will stay safe, healthy and green for the ballplayers and the pleasure of their fans.
So said Nationals Park head groundskeeper Larry DiVito, now in his third year tending the green, green grass of home for the Washington Nationals of the National League.
The trick to it all is that the faithful attending the April 17 morning Mass at the stadium won't really be walking directly on the turf. Instead, they'll be walking on top of plastic flooring. The infield grass, for instance, will be covered by a plastic flooring bearing the coat of arms of Pope Benedict XVI, main celebrant of the ballpark Mass.
"It's pretty industry-standard stuff that's used for concerts," DiVito said in an April 14 telephone interview with Catholic News Service. "The grass is able to breathe. All you're able to do is compact it a little bit and give it some sunlight. It'll get some air.
"The grass won't be dead. It helps that we're doing it in April. In July it's much more difficult" to maintain the field, DiVito said.
Most of the 5,000 people on the field for the Mass will be seated in the front half of the outfield, just past the infield dirt. The stage bearing the papal altar is to be situated between those seats and the outfield wall.
But the field of play at Nationals Park isn't getting an extreme makeover just for the 5,000. It's getting one for Pope Benedict, too.
"The roadway we have to create for the popemobile to move around on the warning track -- that's a little different," DiVito said. "That requires a little different type of flooring."
A warning track is a dirt or gravel path that goes all the way around the playing field.
DiVito and his crew only got to start working on the field after the April 13 Nationals-Atlanta Braves game, giving them all of three days to transform the place.
"I think it's plenty of time," he told CNS. "The stage people think it's tight, but I think it's fine."
Before coming to Washington, DiVito had worked four years as a grounds crew supervisor at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, and prior to that had put in seven years tending to the fields at minor league ballparks at the Triple-A level, one step below the majors.
The day of the papal Mass itself will be a day of hectic activity for some 50,000 worshippers and hundreds of planners. DiVito said he would be available for troubleshooting, but that his work would be largely done.
The heavy lifting, he said, will take place the day after the Mass, when the stage, seats and flooring are removed and he has to get the grass looking and acting as it should in time for the Nats' next home game April 23.
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