MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The grass in Minnesota only recently peeked out from underneath the white blanket. Blooming and growing usually comes much later around here.
Except for Larry DiVito's lawn.
The Minnesota Twins head groundskeeper has again helped guide the grass at Target Field out of hibernation, and with the home opener a week away the ballpark was almost in playing shape despite another delayed spring. Even with the historically harsh winter, featuring the most days in Minneapolis below zero in 36 years, the work for DiVito and his crew has actually been easier than the race to the opener last season.
"This year, it only took us four days to get the snow off the field," DiVito said Monday in front of the empty visiting dugout, while the Twins were in Chicago to start the season against the White Sox.
The bulk of the work, actually, lies in the clearing of the seating bowl and the plaza area beyond the gates. With state-of-the-art technology in place and experts there to use it, producing a major league-caliber surface from the dreariness of a Midwestern winter is simply part of the job, no matter how impressive it appears to the average homeowner.
The temperature on this gray, wet morning was about 20 degrees warmer than last year, when the Twins opened at home on a 35-degree afternoon. The forecasts are calling for some snow later this week, but predicted sunshine by next weekend ought to help the ballpark dry out again before the April 7 game against the Oakland Athletics.
"It'll all be done. The only thing that would throw us off would be a blizzard," DiVito said.
There were no blizzards this winter but plenty of snow and hardly any above-freezing days to melt it. So the pile in shadowed right field reached 22 in hes when removal began a couple of weeks ago, with a 16-inch cover over the infield. The underground heating system was cranked up above 60 degrees to accelerate the melting of the white stuff in left and center fields, and workers shoveled through the rest.
The turf emerged just fine. The snow serves as a natural insulator, on top of the permeable tarp that lets air and water through.
"I think last year was worse. We had to open on April 1, and we had a lot of ice damage," DiVito said, also noting the lower than normal amount of sunlight over the 2012-13 winter months: "We had a lot of cloudy days. That was pretty difficult."
With the extra week to prepare for the home opener this season on top of those better conditions for caring for the field, the angst so many Minnesotans felt through December, January, February and March was absent at the ballpark as April approached. Workers were grading the warning track. Finishing touches around the concourses were taking place. The logos were due to be printed Saturday on the lush, green grass.
No matter the less-than-sunny prospects for this year's Twins in the standings, their home field will be as beaming as usual.