There’s always that moment, after you walk up the ramp and into Fenway Park, when you first glimpse the brilliant green of the field. And if you’re like me, your heart jumps a little. So it’s a little weird to walk in and not see any grass.
But it’s not the sea of white you might expect after this winter.
After a hard winter like the one we had, seeing the Red Sox playing in Florida for Spring Training is a hopeful sign that spring is coming — but it won’t really feel like it’s actually here until the team is back in Fenway Park, where the grounds crew has been busy getting Fenway ready for them.
“The majority of the snow is gone," says David Mellor, the director of grounds at Fenway. "We melted it over the last week, really, and what you see out there is a growth blanket. It’s a woven blanket that lets air and water go through, but when the sun’s out, it acts as a greenhouse.”
The blanket also protects the grass from windburn, which Mellor says is what makes most people’s lawns turn brown in the winter. Until recently, that blanket was covered, waist-high, in snow. More than he’d ever seen in his career. But he says that’s not actually bad for the grass.
“Snow’s a great insulator, it keeps the frost from going as deep," he says. And certainly this year we’re fortunate to have a later opener. So we don’t have to mechanically get out there and have to shovel it off or plow it off.”
What they did was spread 80 bags of black sand, each weighing 50 pounds, over Fenway’s 84,000 square feet of grass.
“And that black sand absorbs heat," Mellor says. "And instead of reflecting sunlight off of white snow, it helps melt it.”
How Does One Get That Job?
The path to this unusual job began in a very ordinary way.
"I grew up a baseball fanatic," Mellor says. "Like a lot of kids, my dream was to make it to the major leagues.”
And he was good. He had scholarship offers to play in college.
“My dream was to get drafted and someday stand on that mound out there as a pitcher," Mellor says. "And a month after I got out of high school, I got hit by a car walking into a McDonald’s restaurant. And I walked on crutches for two and a half years, walked with a cane for 10 months, had seven surgeries in three years, so I missed three years of college.”
It was a terrible time. He was unhappy and frustrated.
“And my family said, 'You know what, adversity makes you stronger. Find a career you’re going to love to do that you’re passionate about,'" he says. "Because so many people don’t like their jobs. And so I thought, 'What do I love to do?' I love baseball. Science was a subject I enjoyed in school. I loved being outside. I thought, 'Somebody has to take care of a field.'"
Mellor managed to get a job on the grounds crew for the Brewers, and his career went from there.
"I’ve worked with the Brewers, Angels, Giants, Packers, but I grew up a Red Sox fanatic,” he says.
So when Mellor got the opportunity to come to Boston, it was a dream.
“It’s emotional," he says. "It’s powerful to be part of the teamwork that takes care of Fenway."
Of Monsters & Microclimates
In the shady stands along the first base line, a crew is busy shoveling out a big patch.
Of course, the ballpark’s most distinctive feature is probably the massive wall in left field known as the Green Monster. Mellor says the Monster makes it interesting for a groundskeeper.
“Most ballparks have two microclimates," he says. "You have the sunny part, and you have the shaded part from the upper deck. But the Green Monster, it being green, absorbs heat. So it’s a third microclimate for us. And so it’s a great friend to us in winter, spring in fall, helping that grass to green up and also helping the snow to start melting in left and center field.”
It’s kind of chilly standing in the shade.
“Tell you what, let's get out of the home plate microclimate and get in some sun,” Mellor says.
We step onto the warning track, which Mellor says is made of crushed up bricks, and walk towards the sun.
“Wait until you get out to the Monster, you’ll see how warm it is out there,” he says.
When he gets there, Mellor reaches up and holds his hand against the wall.
“Come over here and touch the green part. What do you think?
It’s warm — really warm.
Mellor knocks on the wall.
“Has some unique nooks and crannies that have had some fun bounces through the generations,” he says.
Mellor says back when he was working in Milwaukee, it snowed the night before opening day for five of his last seven years.
“So I’m counting on Mother Nature being nice to us this year, and hopefully we don’t add to that," he says.
I mention she hasn’t given us any indication that she’s going to.
"You never know," Mellor says, laughing.
The Red Sox home opener against the Nationals is April 13, and Mellor says one way or another, Fenway will be ready.