Progressive will be ready despite 'crazy' winter
Indians' staff replaced entire outfield sod during offseason
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Every year, like clockwork, there is one obstacle in the Indians' path when it comes to preparing Progressive Field for another baseball season: the Cleveland weather, which always seems to make things interesting.
This past offseason was no different for the ballclub.
"We've had kind of a crazy winter," said Jim Folk, the Indians vice president of ballpark operations. "You can almost set your watch by it this year. Every time we start getting things ready to go, all of a sudden there's 10 inches of snow getting dumped on us."
The weather is just one element that Folk has to deal with each year when it comes to getting the ballpark ready for Opening Day. For fans of the Indians, and for the players and coaches, the home opener is the beginning of another chapter in franchise history, a time for hope and dreams of a championship.
It is a day Folk and his team look forward to every year.
"When you open the gates and you see the people come in," Folk said, "kids with smiles on their faces, and the big eyes looking at everything, maybe seeing the field for the first time, or seeing the scoreboard, whatever it is, it's just so satisfying for all of us.
"That's what we're doing here. We're connecting the fans to the ballpark and to the team. That tells us that we did our job."
In the months leading up to Opening Day, though, Father Winter and Mother Nature don't always play nice.
That was especially true this winter, however Folk was also presented with a new and unique challenge. Over the offseason, the team held an event called "Indians Snow Days," transforming the stadium into a winter playground.
Occupying most of left and center field was a giant tubing hill that began in the bleachers and ended behind second base. Cutting and weaving throughout the field was an ice-skating track. In right field, kids had an area to build a snow man or hold a snowball fight.
In the process, the outfield took a severe beating.
"We replaced the outfield," said Folk, who then chuckled. "The weather, just like with everything else, had something to say about that."
Folk said that in September, Brandon Koehnke, the Indians' head groundskeeper, ordered enough sod to replace the entire outfield. Koehnke went into the winter with a specific plan, anticipating the damage "Snow Days" might cause. The grass installation began a few weeks ago.
Between ice storms and snow flurries, Koehnske and his crew had a few windows of time to get the field ready.
"It didn't all go quite according to plan, but he had some contingency plans," Folk said. "We started doing the install and then got one of those winter weather warnings that stopped things. That put us back a couple of days, but he was able to work on a couple of pieces of it while we waited for the snow to melt."
Come Opening Day, when the Indians host the White Sox, Cleveland expects the field to be in perfectly fine shape.
The ballpark, too.
Folk, who is entering his 30th season in Major League Baseball and his 20th with the Indians, has spent the past few months getting Progressive Field prepared for the sold-out crowd coming his way.
Whether it's doing some touch-up painting around the stadium, getting the water running smoothly, or training a new staff of security guards, ushers and ticket takers, Folk has it covered.
"The finish line is right in front of us," he said.
The only thing missing are the fans, and Folk can't wait to see them.
"Think of how many people say some of their best memories are of going to a baseball game," Folk said. "We're a part of making that happen."