On a brilliant October day in St. Paul’s Lowertown neighborhood, the vivid colors of autumn were on full display.
Just a home run from the Mississippi, a visitor could see a bit of brown and red (dirt), a splash of yellow (foul poles), a dash of pink (fuzzy pig) and, finally, a field of green (fresh sod).
So it was Wednesday, as workers started laying 95,000 square feet of Wisconsin-raised grass at CHS Field, the soon-to-be home of the St. Paul Saints minor league baseball team. All the sod is expected to be down by Friday, enough time for roots to take hold before winter, officials say.
Sod for foul territory along the third- and first-base lines was the first to be cut and tamped into place. As it went down, crews worked at a frenetic pace to get the entire field ready for play by May 2015. Some leveled infield dirt, others smoothed concrete on the left field wall. Still others readied the stadium’s concourse.
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, who unsuccessfully tried to play catch with Mudonna, the Saints mascot in the fuzzy pink pig costume (she kept missing the ball), said the sod is another hopeful sign that baseball will soon be played in downtown St. Paul.
“If they couldn’t get the sod in now, it would have been hard to open on time,” the mayor said. “We can do a lot of things through the course of the winter. Laying sod isn’t one of them.”
Two weeks of sunshine and warm weather should do the trick, said Bob Curley, ballpark site supervisor for Ryan Cos., which is building CHS Field. Once winter comes, workers will shift their focus to clubhouses, locker rooms and the stadium’s interior.
In all, the ballpark is about 60 percent finished. Work on the lights is expected to be completed next week.
So why Wisconsin turf in a Minnesota ballpark?
The answer: A Wisconsin company grows the type of sod that works best with the Lowertown park’s soil and drainage systems. At the base of the playing field is the old concrete slab that was the foundation for the old Gillette factory that once stood on the site. Above that sits 18 inches of crushed concrete to ensure a level surface. On top of that is a sand/dirt mixture to help drainage. Then comes the sod.
When opened, the 7,000-seat ballpark will not only be home to the Saints, but also to the Hamline University baseball team. High school and amateur baseball games will be played there, too.
“Every time I have come here, they are farther along,” Coleman said. “It is really taking shape.”