For Cal Poly graduate student and teaching assistant Oscar Del Real, working as part of the grounds crew at Dodger Stadium has been a “field of dreams.” I met Oscar – in his third year of graduate studies in plant science – through Dr. Valerie Mellano, a former UC ANR colleague who now serves as Chair of the Plant Sciences Department at Cal Poly Pomona.
Oscar’s research examines the interaction between grass and trees. He was named the John E. Andrews Student Leader of the Year in 2017-2018 for his accomplishments. He played a key role in founding the Cal Poly chapter of Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and the Related Sciences (MANRRS).
What sparked your interest in this field (no pun intended!)?
I have had the opportunity to play baseball over the past 20 years, which sparked my interest in this career field.
Ever since my sophomore year in high school, my dream job was to become a part of the Dodgers ground crew. I have always enjoyed working outdoors. I appreciate the fact that the players also aid in the overall maintenance of the field. In high school, I knew that I wasn’t going to make it to the big leagues, which was my childhood dream, but the closest thing to that would be working on the field.
When I graduated from high school, I was offered a job at my high school to maintain their baseball field. I couldn’t turn down the opportunity. I knew that I had to start somewhere before I reached my goal, so I worked on campus for three years. I transferred to Cal Poly Pomona where I received my Bachelor’s degree in Plant Science. I’m now in graduate school. After enrolling at Cal Poly, I was able to score an amazing internship with the Miami Marlins and a job with the Albuquerque Isotopes.
Working at Dodger Stadium is a dream job for many of us. What kind of work do you do there?
I am well-trained and educated in all aspects of grounds maintenance. A few highlights: my ability to maintain the visitor’s bullpen, mowing the outfield pattern, maintaining the infield skin, and painting the logos. [Editor’s Note: The infield skin is the area not covered with grass – where dirt is used – including the areas around the bases, base paths, pitcher’s mound, etc.]
Every morning after a home game, I check the visitors’ bullpen (which consists of patching any holes made by the pitchers). I make sure the mound slope is level, dress the mounds and have them game ready. I also mow both bullpens and, at times, mow the outfield pattern. Maintaining the infield skin is of high importance because 70% of the plays in a game are made in the infield. When it comes to mowing, the times that stand out to me had to be the back-to-back games that were on ESPN…and mowing the outfield for games 6 and 7 of the World Series.
What kind of grass/turf is used at Dodger Stadium? Can you tell us its characteristics and why it’s a good choice for LA and the hopeful world champions? Who provides it?
The type of grass used at Dodger Stadium is predominantly Bandera, which is a variety of a hybrid Bermuda with a perennial rye overseed. Bandera is known to grow well in southern California and is a drought tolerant grass that also performs well in high traffic areas. Since Southern California is a Mediterranean climate zone, which means we have dry summers and wet winters, Bandera fares well in the summer because it can withstand the warmer summers. Bandera not only stands out in terms of performance but also in color. Its rich dark green color can’t be missed when compared to other Bermuda varieties. This color variety is great to work with and makes the pattern pop when we mow. These are just some of the many reasons why we choose Bandera over other varieties of Bermuda grass. West Coast Turf provides our sod.
What about drainage and soil health?
All but one field in Major League baseball are sand-based, which consists of roughly 90% constructed sand and 10% peat moss. Sand-based fields are preferred because they are prone to heavy compaction, have a higher percolation rate and the turf managers are able to control the moisture more easily. Soil health is key to any field or any plant because without healthy soil, the plant wouldn’t be able to thrive. Soil samples are taken twice a year to assess the nutrient levels and to address various issues that might be present.
What are some water-saving strategies major league franchises use for their fields?
One of the key tools which major league teams use in order to monitor moisture levels is a soil moisture sensor. There are various types of soil moisture sensors that are used. They measure the volumetric water content in the soil. Having the ability to know the amount of volumetric water is key since you are able to set a threshold and connect to an irrigation system. Once the water is depleted from the soil, the irrigation system is able to read the low levels and automatically turn on and water until it reaches its ideal levels.
How many years does a field typically last?
It all depends if the stadium hosts additional events, the size of those events and what the event consists of, besides baseball games. For example, at Dodger Stadium we had a concert and had to replace more than half of the field. A few years back, we had a monster truck show and replaced the entire field. However, a stadium could have the same field for 8 + years, if it is properly maintained.
What are the greatest challenges in doing this kind of work? The greatest rewards?
One of the greatest challenges for me had to be the time commitment, especially since I was working full-time and attending school full-time. During the season, we were at the field almost every day, holidays, and weekends. The greatest reward for me was that I woke up every morning and had the opportunity to work at one of the greatest fields in the world. The feeling of seeing the field the day after a game and repairing the mounds, mowing, and working the skin until it was game ready was extremely rewarding. Not only were the fans able to see the finished result, but this extraordinary field was also shown to audiences on national television.
Anything else you’d like to share about yourself and your work?
I am proof that hard work and dedication pays off and dreams do come true. I not only set a goal when I was in high school to work at Dodger Stadium but I tried my hardest to make it there and I did. Now that I have had the opportunity to reach one of my goals, it is time for me to accomplish many more goals. I like to push myself, reach new goals. My experiences have shaped my future goals, and I would like to continue working in turf and possibly the arboriculture industry to further my knowledge and application of plant science.
Once I feel that I have a solid foundation in both careers, I would like to teach and give back to our future. I would like to give back to future students because I was once a student encouraged by other educators and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do in life. Left alone without encouragement, I believe that I wouldn’t have pursued my graduate degree. I am thankful for the educators who invigorated my passion for plant science, I would like to educate our future leaders and help them do the same
Editor’s Note: Turfgrass is an important component of many landscapes, with an estimated 4 million acres of managed turf in California. For high quality, science-based and reliable turfgrass information and resources from the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources, visit UC ANR’s Center for Landscape and Urban Horticulture. Every year, UC ANR hosts a Turfgrass and Landscape Research Field Day for industry professionals. To sign up for the mailing list, click here.