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The Boston Herald

As fans ascended from the tunnels to their seats at Fenway Park for last week's home opener against the Milwaukee Brewers, they saw a traditional checkerboard look in the outfield.

'Weather dictates a lot of what we do with our patterns,' said Dave Mellor, the Red Sox director of grounds. 'You hope for the best and you plan for the worst.'

This offseason, he got the worst.

'In my 30 years, this is certainly my most challenging spring weather that I've been a part of,' said Mellor, who also worked the Brewers' grounds for 16 years. 'We had normally much colder and more snow in Milwaukee, but it would break usually in early March.'

That didn't happen here.

In the months leading up from October when the Red Sox won the World Series, Mellor and his staff oversaw and executed the meticulous process of getting that same field ready for the opener.

'We do have fun with aesthetics whether it's something like the Sox logo or to honor a situation,' Mellor said. 'But the safety and playability is our first priority.'

The weather dictated that those priorities came with more hiccups than usual.

'The fall got cold very quickly, so the normal work we do with our mounds and our clay-work we couldn't do,' said Mellor, who noted the coldest part of the field runs from the visitors on-deck circle through the mound to the visitors bullpen under the upper deck shade.

The thawing process involves ground heaters with hoses that pump Glycol at 140 degrees Fahrenheit. An inflated blanket with parts on top covers the hoses to limit escaped heat. Some days it took two days to thaw the ground, others four or five to finish over the course of a month.

Once the infield or foul area thaws, Mellor and Co. then leapfrog the hoses to right-center field and put the tarp over the ground heaters. They rented three forced hot-air heaters to thaw the rest. In the mornings, they flip the tarp, tend the field then flip the tarp back on overnight.

But the weather-related hiccups continued. A snowstorm in Tuckahoe, N.Y., where the crew gets its sod, delayed the arrival of the new batch by a week.

Once it arrived, they laid the new sod, all 84,000 square feet of it at 4-feet wide and 1.25 inches thick. It's watered thoroughly, laser-leveled twice, and watered again.

Mellor, a self-styled Red Sox 'fanatic,' marvels at his team's synchronicity and attention to detail.

'I just can't say enough about (assistant director of grounds) Jason Griffeth and (manager of grounds) Chris Williams, the grounds crew members and the vendors. Over the last six weeks, they've just been on their hands and knees, washing every blade of grass . . . making sure every edge is manicured.'

As time ticked down to first pitch, Mellor was busy, not rushed, with most of the heavy lifting done. He then reflected on Game 6 of last year, when he simultaneously worked and celebrated his favorite team's World Series title on the field he tended.

'I get goosebumps just thinking about it,' he said.

He can only hope when the Fenway faithful emerge from the tunnels, they get some, too.

April 4, 2014

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