Tuesday, August 22, 2006



During the last homestand that ended August 17 against the Atlanta Braves, the RFK STADIUM Field was noticeably in bad shape. There were distinctive brown and bald spots all around the outfield and in front of the pitchers mound. Even grass in front of both dugouts was in deteriorating condition. This, after the field had looked quite presentable right up until the July 27th home game against the San Francisco Giants.

When the Lerner Group talks about making the BEST OF THE FAN EXPERIENCE AT RFK, with what they were handed, A TOP QUALITY FIELD, ALL SEASON LONG--has to be high on their list. A baseball diamond is a beautiful field to look at. A SYMMETRICAL DELIGHT!

When the African Queen and I got on the field for the Sunday Team Picnic for Season Ticket holders the first weekend in June, the field was quite magnificent.

During the Inaugural 2005 Washington Nationals Season, the field was in TERRIBLE shape by the last home game on October 2. The RFK Stadium TURF WAS BROWN AND DEAD!! In fact, then team President, Tony Taveras, was quoted as saying he was "EMBARRASSED" by the sloppiness of the field. And, he would do everything in his power to make the playing surface better for 2006.

Some of this has to do with the fact that the Nats share the field and RFK Stadium with long time tenant, DC United--the most popular and most supported team in Major League Soccer. Between the 2 teams, the field is used over 100 times during the course of both teams overlapping schedules. In fact, for soccer, the pitchers mound retracts into the ground, flat, and is covered along with the dirt basepaths with sod. Sod that, DC United players, complain is too loose, and dangerous on wet gamedays--when a slip could lead to a major knee problem. I have no doubt the changeover from the Baseball Configuration to Soccer stresses the field to no end.

That's alot of use, and football(soccer) is a wear and tear sport. And those movable stands along the 3rd base side during Nationals Games (YES THE SAME STANDS THAT HOUSES SECTION 320), The ones that allow fans to jump up and down--causing the WONDERFUL "Sea of Bouncing Heads Wave Effect" a Distinctive Scene to DC Sport, that is so cool to view, are moved to left and centerfield for DC United Games---causing even more grass abuse.

But down the right field line, at the corner, near the foul pole and in front of the Nationals Bullpen the grass is absolutely DEAD. During DC United games, do they park a GIGANTIC TRUCK there?; or cover that portion of the baseball field with some sort of tarp? Whatever is done is just killing the baseball field.

I realize it hasn't rained much in the past 6 weeks, but water should be no problem for either teams grounds crews.

It also didn't help, in 2005, that before the Nats ever played their first game, the Bermuda Grass Sod, the team wanted to use, was not available locally due to the colder than normal winter season leading up to Opening Night, April 14, 2005. So, the Nats President, Tony Taveres, had to install 100,000 square feet of a lesser quality Georgia sod, that was overseeded with Rye Grass. Unfortunately, there was more RYE than Bermuda Grass. The Rye did not hold up in the heat and humidity of Washington, DC.

According to former Stadium Groundskeeper, Jimmy Rodgers, the heat & humidity combined with the little air movement inside the stadium to cause fungus to form on the grass roots. Killing the grass.

For 2006, Rodgers convinced the Stadium Authority to replace the barren turf with a locally produced Riviera Bermuda from the DelMarVa Peninsula. Sod that was suppose to be more durable. Obviously, that has not worked to full effect, and New Groundskeeper, Larry DiVito has similar problems.

Since both DC United and Washington Nationals had peacefully coexisted together for one year, you would think that they could have worked out a deal with the RFK Stadium Authority to install a better turf.

Or, Better yet, for DC United GameDays, roll out those removable Turf Trays, like they do at Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands, used overtop many American Stadiums (both grass and artificial) that would save the baseball playing surface from excessive wear and tear, and giving DC United a quality playing field all their own.

But, considering the amount of money both teams bring to the coffers of the DC Government and Stadium Authority, it seems the tray solution is a solid temporary measure, since both teams are expecting to move to new stadiums on the Anacostia Waterfront, directly across the river from each other.

Curious to know why the removable trays were not used, or just not considered acceptable.

Loving baseball as much as I do, I can vividly remember the very first time I saw a spendid GREEN GRASS baseball field, in 1966, when I attended my very first Major League Game, against the Yankees, at DC Stadium (now RFK)...The sight of walking up the stadium ramps and getting that first peek of green, between levels, was exciting. I just couldn't wait to get to the upper deck!! It was, at that time, the greenest grass I had ever seen.

It would be great to see other youngsters viewing that sight for the very first time. But, the current condition of the field, certainty takes that initial JOY away. Gotta be a way to fix this.

Mr Lerner, Mr Kasten, DC United, RFK Stadium Authority-can we work out a system to give both teams a quality field for the last season together in 2007? A field all the fans would be proud to view---ALL SEASON LONG.


Anonymous said...

Great posting. I was also shocked at the condition of the field. It is an embarrassment. In these current drought conditions, you need to put a fungicide on the grass to prevent the fungus from taking hold. You also need to provide lots of water for the grass. Fungicide and water cost money. Either the Nats' groundkeeper chief is incompetent or the Lerners are too cheap to keep the field in proper condition. However, it is much cheaper to properly maintain the field than it is to resod it next spring.

Anonymous said...

You have a problem with your site. When a commenter chooses an identity of "other", it always comes up "anonymous".

Anonymous said...

No surprise, now that I pointed out the problem, the identity feature worked properly. Oh well!

SenatorNat said...

LEAVES OF GRASS (with apologies to Walt Whitman, both the poet and the Bethesda High School named for him...)

Nats lost two games, arguably, in 2005 due to condition of the field during April; this year, none. (One due to the mound; the other should have been called for rain.) Nats are 30-30 thus far in 2006 at home, same as Marlins, while division rivals Braves and Phillies, are actually below .500 thus far at their home parks. (Cubs and Royals also below .500 at home - everyone else above that mark.)

Nats, other than pitching, have had relatively few serious injuries to everyday key players: Vidro out for nearly a month; Schneider for two weeks - but everyone else healthy. No injuries thus far, due to the turf, the fence, etc.

Soriano and Zimmerman exceeded even highest performance expectations coming into this season, and have played every day, while even injury-prone Nick Johnson has stayed healthy (knock on wood) and had very solid year.

Stats show that both
Soriano and Kearns among league leaders batting v. left-handers, too. (Latter stats must be based on his Cincy games...) There's the problem: too few NL left-handed starters to benefit the Nats! Of course, when an opposing left-hander does go to the mound, FLOP turns around and bats RH - thus instantly negating the team's apparent statistical advantage.

Nats shortstops have hit about 70 points better than last year. Vidro, when playing, is a .300 hitter.

So - why is this team playing at almost the precise pace of the dismal last half of the 2005 season, after injuries had taken their toll?

With all deserved deference to SBF, it's not the field at RFK, that's for sure. It is the fact that the team ERA is nearly 4.82 - almost 5 runs a game; compounded by terrible fielding and an offense that leaves more runners on base than you can imagine.

Throw in the fact that Frank may as well hold up a sign to the opposing dugout saying: "We're going" before steals, it is so predictable!

The Nats have used more players than any other club this year, a total of 1,067 (joke), and they obviously are not accustomed to playing with each other.

Soriano has learned a new position, Zimmerman is a rookie, and for many games, the outfield and second base was occupied by guys better suited to field in a church softball game.

Throw in hijinks of the back-up catching, unforgettable if you are a Sports Center junkie, with LeCroy giving up 25 bases on 20 steal attempts, for example, while Schneider was out. The tears were real, of course.

None of this occurred due to the cleating of the field by D.C. United or grass fungus!!

I have no objection to improving the look and playability of RFK's field in its final year before the move to the new stadium, of course.

As a matter of fact, I can offer a recommendation - let's give Joey Eishen the task of pulling out crabgrass as he lays on the ground writhing from his next season-ending injury attempting to field a bunt!

Anyway, it's Atlanta ace John Smoltz who has the inside contacts, apparently, with good turf management - but do not look for him coming here to pitch for the Nationals, at least while they are still at RFK.

The only true green that can improve the look for the team is in the Lerners bank account, which I hope they are willing to spread around a bit more than their predecessor team owner MLB, certainly...

(Another suggestion is to roll Armark's hot dogs on field prior to each game - thus, killing fungus and allowing the green from the dogs to spruce up the field!)