About an hour after the Royals’ season finale Sunday at Kauffman Stadium, a group of grounds crew members grabbed a golf club and put a pin in center field.
This wasn’t some end-of-the-season fun. Head groundskeeper Trevor Vance let them do it because the Royals are replacing the field for the first time since 1994. And if you believe that’s just a matter of replacing the grass, think again.
“This is,” Vance said, “a massive overhaul.
“This isn’t just stripping the sod. We’re replacing the sod, we’re replacing the sand, we’re taking out part of the warning track.”
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Below the grass is 15 to 20 inches of sand, which is on top of 4 to 6 inches of pea gravel and then irrigation pipes. There are more than 90 sprinkler heads. Vance said 10 to 12 inches of dirt in the infield are being replaced. The warning track’s crushed lava is being pulled up and the top 4 inches of material will be recycled and used at the bottom of the new material.
“Everything below surface, it started to become kind of like an old house,” Vance explained. “The irrigation is showing some age and it wasn’t draining as well as it had. Pipes were getting weak. We had repeated repairs with the system.”
When the field was installed, it was able to drain 20 inches of rain in an hour. Vance said testing showed that was down to 5 inches of rain per hour.
“The last thing we wanted to do was have our drainage system fail us,” Vance said. “It was getting up there in age.”
When the Royals’ season ends, Vance usually readies it for an extended break, then takes some time off. Not so this year.
The Royals hope to start laying sod at Kauffman Stadium by Nov. 13 and have the project completed by Nov. 22.
“Instead of putting it to bed, we’re just rebuilding it,” said Vance, who is in his 33rd year with the Royals. “If it happens once every 20 years, I’m happy with it.”
And because the changes were coming, Vance was happy to let the baseball field be used for golf. But just this one time.
“They spent so much time taking care of the place, we let them have some fun since it was coming out anyway,” Vance said. “We weren’t doing anything to damage it.”
Here are photos from Toby Cook, the Royals’ vice president of publicity: