The Green, Green Grass of Home

Safeco Field head groundskeeper Bob Christofferson and his crew, who have been carefully tending the new infield grass installed last fall, are ramping up preparations for Opening Night.

One of the new tools they have in their repertoire is a system of mobile “grow” lights that will give the grass a head start on spring and summer conditions.

The new system arrived this week from the Netherlands and is already up and running. There are four mobile units, two large and two small. They’re basically long arms studded with bulbs mounted on wheels. The large units have 60 600 watt bulbs and can cover almost 4,000 sq. ft. The small units have 10 600 watt bulbs and can cover about 270 sq. ft.

The system, which is made by SGL, Stadium Grow Lighting, uses light on the PAR spectrum (photosynthetically active radiation) that provides the optimum growing conditions for plants. Christofferson will monitor special sensors installed on the roof and at field level to determine such things as CO2 levels, air and soil temperature, air and soil humidity and photosynthesis. Christofferson can then place the units wherever the grass needs a little boost. Initially, the units will stay in place 1-2 days before they’re moved to a new spot.

The goal is to have the field in mid-season form by Opening Night, April 13, and keep it that way all season.

Gerard van ‘t Klooster, who came over from the Netherlands to advise Christofferson on the system’s set-up and use, says the idea is to take chance out of the equation. “Next week will be the same as last week. The whole risk of poor conditions is less and less. You can control conditions so that you always have the best possible growing conditions.”

Here in the Pacific Northwest, light levels are fairly low all year, and shadows from the ballpark have always presented challenges for Christofferson and his crew. “We want it to be the best quality playing surface we can make it. The lights are just another tool to help us get there.”

SGL has systems in 96 locations around the world from Russia to Australia, The Philippines and across Europe. Next week, they plan to do an installation in Brazil. Safeco Field is SGL’s fourth installation in the U.S. The others are in Green Bay, Red Bull Arena in New York, and Minute Maid Park in Houston.

Christofferson says the Astros have used two of the small mobile units since last September, and the head groundskeeper there told him the results were immediate.

Van ‘t Klooster will be back in Seattle at the end of April to check on the field’s progress.

- RH

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