Major League Baseball’s ‘Little League Classic’ game between the St Louis Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Pirates will take place on August 20 in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Held at BB&T Ballpark at Historic Bowman Field, the game will see the teams walk out on a renovated field, so Stadia spoke with Murray Cook (below), STMA member and president, Sports Turf Division, at landscaping experts BrightView, to find out more about the project.
Can you walk us through the timeline of the project? When did work start on the field, and what were the steps involved?
Last autumn, the MLB Commissioners office asked us to take a look at the potential of renovating Bowman Field into a location where they could host a regular season game. After the initial survey, we determined the minor league-level [field]would need to be renovated due to the lack of drainage, turf conditions and uneven grades etc.
Along with our evaluations, we also determined that the relocation of the dugouts would be needed along with a new foul fence and shortening of the outfield fence. Bowman Field had dimensions of 351ft in right field, 408ft to center and 341ft to left field. New dimensions are 331ft to right, 411ft to center and 323ft to left. After shortening the fencing, we were also able to relocate the bullpens behind the outfield fence instead them being on the field of play along the warning track.
We started the field construction in March by removing an 18in-high crown. Once the crown was removed, we added new drainage, irrigation, 4,000 tons of rootzone, tuckahoe bluegrass sod, new infield clay, new bullpens, and warning track.
We also had to provide professional MLB-level field management via our BrightView Sports Turf team. Isaiah Lienau and Kevin Moses were given the ask of maintaining the field up until our MLB game. They have done a fabulous job.
How did you calculate when work needed to begin?
This decision was basically weather driven. We had to work the construction in before the Crosscutters minor league season started on June 20. Starting field work in the northeast area of Pennsylvania has its risks due to potential major snowfalls which could have really set our timeline in a spin, but Mother Nature was helpful and only gave us rain most of the days in March.
Did you allow any leeway for setbacks/overruns?
As mentioned earlier, weather in March caused some challenges with stabilizing the local native soils of the sub base. In addition to the MLB field renovation, the city of Williamsport also engaged in a renovation of the backstop, dugouts and new seating section behind homeplate. Coordination of these renovations during the small timeframe was also challenging, but it worked out great due to constant communication.
Were there any elements of the restoration that proved trickier than anticipated?
Last year it took us 120 days to construct a 12,500-seat temporary stadium in Fort Bragg for an MLB game between the Atlanta Braves and Miami Marlins – and that ballpark was built on an abandoned golf course with no existing structures. In comparison, Bowman Field is an existing facility with locker rooms, permanent stands, existing fencing etc. Not to mention, it’s the second oldest minor league ballpark in the USA, constructed in 1926.
We had to design to existing conditions as it related to the field and dugouts, which was very challenging. Some areas of the stadium were available and useful. For example, we were able to use the existing locker rooms and coaches’ area but we needed other MLB level amenities, so we brought in temporary locker room additions, meal rooms, trainer’s room and batting tunnels for each team. Some of these items you typically don’t have in a low-level minor league ballpark.
For baseball operations, the old ballpark didn’t have a media room, instant replay room or interview area, and when you add broadcast productions, event productions, MLB operations and so on, you have yourself a tent and trailer city. Again, this setup was similar to Fort Bragg and some of our international games we have played in various countries.
Which element of the project are you most proud of?
The field turned out great, but I think I’m more proud of the teamwork that went into this project and our Sports Turf team members that made it happen.
This event required a lot of coordination between multiple entities. The city of Williamsport, MLB, Little League, the Crosscutters ball club, BrightView development, our field builder, our event operation and design partners Bam and Populous. Everyone had a common goal – developing a safe MLB-level field and facilities.
Where you happy with how the surface held up during the inaugural game on June 20?
Overall, very much so. It was a rainy day and we had not received our new tarp so the old one had a few holes in it that caused some added work before the game, but it turned out great and the weather on opening night was beautiful.
August 16, 2017