When the Bisons play their home opener April 14, the team will be on Kari Allen's turf.
Allen, a native of Grand Rapids, Mich., and a graduate of Michigan State's crop and soil sciences program, is starting her third season as head groundskeeper at Dunn Tire Park.
Over the winter, Allen, 30, and her husband, Jay, moved from an apartment to a house in Orchard Park, so, she says, laughing, "This is the first year I'll actually have a yard to take care of."
You oversaw some major renovations of the field in the fall.
We had some drainage issues over the years. We had an organic layer buildup that was capping off our drains, so the water couldn't get through. That was the main reason for the renovation. The grass was just ugly, too. We have a blend of four varieties of Kentucky bluegrass, and it had been invaded by another type of grass called annual bluegrass.
How did the annual bluegrass get in?
The seeds spread like crazy, so it can come in on the wind, or by birds, or on the shoes of other people, and over the years it's just gotten worse and worse.
Would that be apparent to people looking at the field?
I thought it was just hideous! You can really notice it when it's producing seeds toward the end of May, beginning of June. You could see the lighter green patches. We considered it a weed because that's not the type of grass we wanted there. So we stripped off the sod and about 4 inches of soil underneath it just to make sure we got rid of that organic layer, and brought in sand, and regraded it, and put new sod down. I've always heard people saying that the field looked great as it was, but I thought it looked horrible. I still can't control the weather, unfortunately, but this will also help us with the field being playable sooner once it stops raining.
What remains to be done this spring?
The infield dirt, which we call the skinned area, I usually have somebody come in and till that up a little bit and re-grade it with a laser level, we didn't get to that last fall, so hopefully they'll be in here as soon as it's dry enough, and we'll make sure the base paths and the home-plate area is all level. Groundskeepers in baseball really do a lot more work on the dirt than they do on the grass. We spend at least 70 percent of our time, sometimes more, working on the dirt. The majority of the game is played on the dirt area. In the outfield, there's only three guys standing there. In baseball, grass is really the easy part.
Is baseball groundskeeping a big field for women?
It's not, but it's definitely growing. Every year in January, I go to a sports turf managers conference, and since I've been going, there have been more and more females there every year.