The snowy outside of Target Field on January 8, 2014. Credit: Collin Kottke

Interview with Minnesota Twins Head Groundskeeper Larry DiVito

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Yearly there is an event in every garage in Minnesota and I call the event ‘the big switch’. The big switch is when the summertime garage dwellers (lawnmowers, motorcycles, etc.) are put from the front of the garage to the back of the garage. Switching with them is the snow removal items that just mock you and tell you that winter is here.

The garage for the Minnesota Twins is the same as all of ours. The lawnmowers are way in the back, much to the chagrin of Head Groundskeeper Larry DiVito. On Wednesday afternoon, I sat down and talked with DiVito in his office in the underbelly of Target Field.

His Crew

DiVito said his crew is about eight members in the winter and that number only goes up to ten during the time of the year the Twins are playing at Target Field. DiVito said it was abnormal for a team to have so many grounds crew members during the offseason, but it was a requirement for all of the snow removal necessary in this climate.

He mentioned that he had to beg for a third member to his winter team when he was with the Washington Nationals.

The Biggest Problem

I asked DiVito what the biggest challenge or problem in the attempt to have such a picturesque major league field.

“Shade is the biggest problem. Morning sun equals the best grass.”

Divito said that the morning sun is the light that best allows grass to grow. This equals in a problem in right field where shadows fall during the morning at Target Field.  DiVito put the shade problem in the simplest way possible:

“Lack of sun means a lack of strength.”

Weather Forecasting

It’s not all about a game day forecast for the grounds crew. DiVitio told me that they are looking ahead to the forecast 36-48 hours in advance to properly care for the field. Knowing what the conditions will be in a couple days allows the crew to adequately water and treat the field.

The Dirt on the Dirt

“Dirt is the most important part of the field.”

DiVito stated this and then mentioned that the dirt is where the pitcher’s land, where balls bounce, where the fielders plant and where the base runners need traction. DiVito said that fans notice the grass, but the dirt is much more important.

DiVito came right out and told me he wasn’t hired for how he cuts grass and it was easy to tell that DiVito’s passion is the dirt on the field. He pointed out that the dirt changes throughout the course of the game. The first three innings having perfect conditions, the middle three being less than perfect and the last three being a lot different. DiVito made the comparison to golf.

“If you watch the US Open and see the greens on the third day, the golfers during the second half of the day are going to have different conditions then the first half after the greens are walked on all day. Conditions change throughout a ballgame.”

The Jeff Kent/Cesar Izturis Infield

Two stops before the Twins and Target Field, DiVito was on the grounds crew for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Dodgers stadium. DiVitio told me a story about the Dodgers infield of 2005.

The Dodgers had just acquired second baseman Jeff Kent who was getting older, 37-years-old, and a little slower. The Dodgers shortstop was Cesar Izturis who was coming off of a Gold Glove season in 2004. Kent wanted longer grass to slow down the ball, Izturis wanted shorter grass for a faster playing surface.

Something had to give, right? Wrong.

The Dodgers cut their infield differently that year. The second base side of the infield was cut at one inch and the shortstop side of the field was cut at 3/4 of an inch.

DiVito said that you couldn’t tell the difference from the stands, but if you walked out onto the field that you could tell the difference.

He added the difference between the 3/4 side and the inch side, does not play a whole lot differently and would not alter play drastically.

Target Field Grass

Target Field’s grass is cut at one inch or one and one eight inch for the duration of the season.

I have always been curious about how major league baseball fields get the design on the field and I’ve always tried to do it on the lawn at home. DiVito told me that it is accomplished by a roller behind the blade of the mower. The roller pushes the grass a certain way to make the designs we see on the field.

All-Star Game Field Update

The big push this season for the Twins is the All-Star game coming to Target Field and DiVito shed some light on the typically more fancy designs on the All-Star game fields.

“The All-Star Game is in meeting phase. It’s not me picking a pattern. Major League Baseball picks a pattern and then runs it through the team.”

When the team gets the plans they will then run it by DiVito and he’ll say if the design can be accomplished. He also said that in the month or so up to the All-Star game that he may have to cut the grass without a design to get a ‘clean slate’ for an All-Star game design.

Concerts at Target Field

The first Kenny Chesney concert resulted in the replacing of 13,000 square feet of grass. The second Chesney go-round resulted in 6,000 square feet replaced. DiVito told me that the promoters were a little bit more open to grounds crew direction the second time after the promoter got to see the bill for replacing the grass.

DiVito told me he hears that the Twins are trying to schedule another concert for some time in August. DiVito also pointed out that Chesney is not touring in 2014, so if there is a concert at Target Field this summer it looks like it most likely will not be Kenny Chesney.

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