A Field Fit for a Tribe

January 31, 2012
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Precise control allows Victory Field to be used for an event held in conjunction with Super Bowl XLVI while also laying the groundwork for a winning baseball season.



Victory Field is home to the Indianapolis Indians, the second oldest minor league franchise in American professional baseball. Also known as the “Tribe,” the Indians play in the International League and are the Triple-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Designed by HOK Architects, the Indians’ state-of-the-art stadium opened in 1996 and is located in downtown Indianapolis at the corner of Maryland Street and West Street. Victory Field has a capacity of 12,202 seats and a grass berm that can accommodate another 2,000 spectators. It has been touted in Sports Illustrated as the “Best Minor League Ball Park in America” and has also won “Field of the Year” honors five times from the International League as well as “Turf Manager of the Year” five times from the Sports Turf Managers Association.

The city takes great pride in keeping this facility in top operating shape with a playing surface that rivals most Major League Baseball parks in America. Like most modern ballparks, keeping the field at peak performance requires the sod to be replaced every five to 10 years. “Over time, organics build up in the 2 to 4 inches of the sand based root zone directly below the sod and slows the percolation,” says Jamie Mehringer, former Indianapolis Indians head groundskeeper and president of J&D Turf, Fishers, Ind., which specializes in sports turf fields and operates as a supplier and contractor of building sports fields throughout the Midwest. “The slower percolation makes the turf prone to disease and poor playing conditions.”

The sod and the top 4 inches of the sand base were removed in 2003 and replaced with new sand and sod. By 2011, the field was due to have the sod replaced again. This time, however, the project would have to take place in two stages. Precise control would be needed to ensure a level playing field.

A temporary football field was constructed in the outfield for the DIRECTV Celebrity Beach Bowl.

In May 2008, the City of Indianapolis was named the host city for Super Bowl XLVI in 2012. Although the Super Bowl itself would be held at Lucas Oil Stadium, related events would require the use of other Indianapolis venues--including Victory Field.

By the spring of 2011, Joey Stevenson, turf manager at Victory Field, had already begun planning for the Super Bowl festivities. He called WSI Engineering, headquartered in Plainfield, Ind., and asked us to lay out a football field in the outfield. It seemed like a strange request for a baseball stadium, but we didn’t question it. “We assumed it was a special event for the upcoming 2011 season,” says Todd Wallace, PE, project manager at WSI. “Minor league ballparks host a lot of special events other than baseball games during the course of the season. They range from concerts to soccer games, so we didn’t think too much about it at the time.” Wallace quickly drew up a football field using AutoCAD Civil 3D on the base drawings of Victory Field.

In September, Stevenson called WSI again. We had already been contracted to assist with re-sodding the field beginning in October. However, our team was surprised to learn that only the infield and the skirt areas (between the baseline and dugouts) would be re-sodded in the fall. The football field laid out by Wallace would be used for the DIRECTV Celebrity Beach Bowl on Feb. 4, the day before Super Bowl XLVI, and couldn’t be re-sodded until the spring. Precise control would help ensure that the reconstruction would be seamless. We were excited to learn that we would be working on a field that would be used for an event related to the Super Bowl.

The sod reconstruction project is being led by Nolan Thomas and Co. Inc. (NT & Co.), based in Oxford, N.C., in conjunction with J&D Turf. For both the infield and outfield reconstruction work, NT & Co. plans to use its John Deere 450 dozer outfitted with a Topcon 3D-MC2 single-mount GPS receiver and base station to grade the new sand. Since this would be the company’s first attempt at using GPS to grade inside a stadium, Nolan Thomas, the company’s president, wanted at least eight control points around the stadium to reference his equipment.

Using a Trimble R8 GNSS RTK rover package outfitted with a Trimble TSC2 Controller and the Indiana Department of Transportation CORS (InCORS) network, we selected a total of 12 different sites around the field for control points. Four of the points were from the original control network, which had been established with a Trimble 5600 Robotic Total Station and a TDS Ranger controller for the 2003 field reconstruction project. The new control points were spaced as evenly around the field as possible.

We knew the most difficult points would be the ones set at each end of the dugouts and along the inside walls along the seating in foul territory. To make the situation even more challenging, the roof of the grandstands obstructed a good portion of the south and west sky. We were concerned that multipath would bring the project to a halt.

We set our mask angle to 30 degrees for all observations. Each of the twelve points was observed twice on three different days. Even with the roof of the grandstand and the 30 degree mask angle, we were generally using nine to 12 satellites during our observation times. To tighten up our horizontal network, we used a Trimble VX Spatial Station with a Trimble TSC2 Controller to traverse through the points and to verify the distances between the calculated position of each control point. We were impressed with the horizontal locations of our adjusted control points; our measured distances didn’t deviate any more than 0.03 foot.

To verify the vertical locations of our control points, I asked Steve Myer, Trimble sales specialist for Seiler Instrument and Manufacturing Co. Inc. in Indianapolis, what type of level to use. He recommended a Trimble DiNi Digital Level. Myer met me at Victory Field, and we ran a level circuit through all 12 points and closed out with an error of 0.004 foot. One of the control points that had the most error was located inside the stands next to the home plate side of the Indians’ dugout. We were within 0.07 foot of the calculated elevation. On the other control points, we were generally within less than 0.04 foot, which was well within the required specifications.

Seiler Instrument's Steve Myer (left) and Nolan Thomas discuss the finer points of precision.

Reconstruction of the infield started on Oct. 6, 2011, and took two weeks. Nolan Thomas graded the infield sand without any problems using the GPS system mounted on his dozer. J&D Turf finished grading the infield using an Agatec CL185 cone laser (a specialized conical laser designed for the sports turf industry) and SR200 receiver.

After the excitement of Super Bowl XLVI dies down, and the massive heated tent and sand arena used for the DIRECTV Celebrity Beach Bowl have been disassembled and carted away, the contractors will begin work on the sod reconstruction in the outfield. Thanks to the precise control provided by modern GNSS technology, they should be able to pick up right where they left off to create a flawless field for the Indians’ baseball season. With any luck, the field will see some good action during the Minor League Baseball playoffs. Let’s go Tribe!

All photos by Kelly Wallace, photojournalist, Plainfield, Ind., kellydaywallace@gmail.com


SIDEBAR: Protecting Their Turf

Minor League Baseball fields are virtually flat, and tasks such as grading and sod reconstruction might appear easy at first glance. However, precision is paramount. This is not a matter of getting it to the nearest tenth of a foot; the skinned areas of the infield have to be within a hundredth of a foot.

The individuals in the professional sports turf industries are fanatical when it comes to drainage and distances on their fields. This is a highly specialized industry that requires a keen eye for detail and extreme dedication. The turf manager’s reputation is on the line every time there is a home game. I have seen a lot of earthmoving companies get in trouble when they take on one of these projects without understanding the requirements.

I’ve worked with the Indianapolis Indians for the past 11 years, providing site monitoring of the infield and topographic surveys, and checking the diamond specifications (including the mound height) annually. The first Victory Field turf manager I met was an excellent mentor in the professional sports turf world. Mike Boekholder, now with the Philadelphia Phillies, is a tough-as-nails type of guy, and I spent the first hour and a half after meeting him trying to get the first base anchor closer than 1/16th of an inch. After that, I realized how committed these guys are to their fields. I had the privilege of working closely with Boekholder for the 2003 sod reconstruction project at Victory Field.

Joey Stevenson, the current turf manager, is equally passionate about achieving a near-perfect playing surface. His dedication pushes us to look for new ways to help, which has led to the implementation of several technology and process advances. For example, a few years ago I began designing a specialized rod to help ensure the accuracy of topographic surveys--a tool that has been further developed by WSI. We also recently began monitoring the skinned areas of the infield on a 5-foot grid to look for potential areas along the back arc of the infield that may result in water ponding.

Achieving a flawless professional sports turf is no game. It is, however, an excellent way for surveyors to add value as part of a winning business strategy.

--T.W.

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