White Sox: No easy task preparing U.S. Cellular for opener

White Sox: No easy task preparing U.S. Cellular for opener
March 17, 2014, 6:45 pm
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White Sox head groundskeeper Roger Bossard had to get the field at old Comiskey Park ready to play after thousands of fans poured on to it, started a bonfire and ripped up sections of turf during the infamous Disco Demolition night in 1979. And he said getting U.S. Cellular Field ready for opening day two weeks from Monday presents just as great a challenge.

With March 31's White Sox-Twins curtain-raiser rapidly approaching, Bossard is confident he and his groundskeeping team are up to the task.

"Back's against a wall a little bit, but I got a good crew and doing everything I can here," Bossard said in a press conference Monday. "And I'm really comfortable that we're not only going to be able to open on opening day but have the workout the day before."

As things stand, a brutal Chicago winter has left about 30 inches of permafrost beneath the playing surface at U.S. Cellular Field. Bossard needs to thaw the ground down about six to 10 inches for the field to be playable — though the brutal Chicago winter hasn't loosened its grip to allow that to happen naturally.

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So Bossard's strategy is twofold. After removing about 400 tons of snow from the field over the weekend, he's working on heating and thawing the playing surface from above and beneath.

Two tarps were stationed on the left and right sides of the infield on Monday with powerful heaters blasting warm air to help thaw the ground. The temperature under the tarps is around 75 degrees, and Bossard said it'll take three days of constant heat to thaw the required six to 10 inches on those areas of the field.

Bossard is also forcing hot air through his state-of-the-art drainage system beneath U.S. Cellular Field to attempt to thaw the permafrost. Both processes will go on for the next 10 or so days, after which Bossard will let White Sox manager Robin Ventura know if the field will be ready for a workout March 30 and Opening Day on March 31.

Though right now, the field would be unplayable. In some spots — especially right field, which receives the least amount of sun — the turf is very hard. Players' cleats would have no chance of digging in and gripping the turf; it'd be akin to playing on a bed of grass growing out of a tennis court.

"If I had this type of frost line on Opening Day, I would tell (Ventura) we couldn't play," Bossard said. "That's how severe it is. I've never seen anything like that before. I'm comfortable we're not going to be there."

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In the short term, the field might get a reprieve with temperatures not predicted to drop below freezing between this Tuesday and Friday. But yet another cold snap is projected to hit Chicago over the weekend and into next week, with lows in the 20s Saturday through Wednesday.

That's a problem, since if the temperature drops below 32 degrees the field will re-freeze. And, according to Weather.com's long-range forecast, Chicago will experience a low below freezing every day for over a week leading into Opening Day.

"I haven’t talked to him since he left, but I would imagine that he’s pretty nervous, knowing him," Ventura said Monday in Arizona. "He didn’t sound too optimistic about it when he left, but there’s nothing we can do. I remember it being cold and snowy and all that other stuff, but I don’t think it has been quite like this. This is new for him, too."

While Bossard sounded more confident Monday after seeing the field and devising a plan, he didn't guarantee the field will be playable in two weeks. But he's faced rare, difficult challenges before and believes the White Sox indeed will be able to take a thawed field against the Twins on the afternoon of March 31.

"This is the same thing that it was when Bill Veeck was here for Disco Demolition," Bossard said. "It mimics that."