Green grass and rising spirits at Camden Yards

Groundskeepers, downtown businesses prepare for home opener

April 03, 2011|By Frank D. Roylance, The Baltimore Sun

Weeks of cold and dreary weather seemed to melt away in the sunshine at Oriole Park on Sunday as groundskeepers and their mowers filled the air with the fragrance of fresh-cut grass and laid down a crisp diamond pattern on the emerald turf.

It was the next-to-last cutting before the season's home opener at 3:05 p.m. Monday. And head groundskeeper Nicole Sherry was there to make sure the place looks its best by the time the players and fans arrive.

"We'll put the finishing touches on the home opener logo [the painted insignia at home plate] …and have the place looking as clean as we can for Opening Day," she said.

Buoyed by the sunny break in the weather and the Orioles' promising start in their first three regular-season games, everyone around the park seemed optimistic.

"I'm so ready, so excited about tomorrow," said Rachel Sheubrooks, 28, owner of Sliders Bar & Grill opposite the stadium.

"I like them no matter what," she said. "But I definitely think they're going to do much better this year. Obviously, if they do really well, our business will be booming."

How excited is she?

"I'm going to get an Orioles tattoo today, with my dad," Sheubrooks said — a little "O" on her wrist. "Dad?" she shouted to her father as they worked to clear out the tables and chairs to get ready for a huge home opener crowd. "When are we going to get tatted?"

Just down the street, vendor Rob Jones, 41, had his spot between the stadium and Pickles Pub staked out and his Orioles' apparel stand set up under a canopy.

Customers were scarce — a few hotel guests and tourists. But it didn't seem to matter. "It's not so much about the money today," he said. "It's just our presence, letting folks know this place is spoken for … so there's no controversy in the morning."

He, too, expects the young team will do well, and that will be good for everyone's business.

"I think it's our time to get back on track," said Jones, a professional stagehand when he's not selling shirts and other clothing at the stadium.

"They finished strong last season, with a winning record in the last month, and they've won the first few games on the road," he said.

That should mean the dwindling crowds of recent (losing) seasons will soon be history. "With more people in the stands, there's more traffic," he said. "Everybody does better."

Baltimore police were ready for the start of a promising new baseball season at Oriole Park.

"We've been doing this for years now, and we've got an extremely well-prepared, professional team," said police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi.

"Several dozen" uniformed officers will patrol the stadium and its perimeter watching for "inappropriate behavior." There will be some plainclothes police in the vicinity, too.

"We want people to come to Camden Yards, to pack the stands, enjoy the game and spend some time in the city," he said. "We want to stress that everyone who comes in should have a great time and be safe."

Back inside the ballpark, Sherry, 33, a Delaware native with a degree in agriculture, watched as four groundskeepers swept single file, back and forth across a vast outfield of Kentucky bluegrass that dwarfed their 24-inch-wide rotary push mowers.

"We're walk-mowing to get it fluffed up," she explained. "We're trying to lift up the blades so it gets cut when we use the real industrial mowers."

The big 7-foot reel mowers came next, laying down a diamond pattern for the home opener, one of four that change with each homestand.

Sherry's crew has been at it since March 1, aerating the field, rebuilding the pitcher's mound and home plate, and laser-leveling the base paths. They waited out the freezes and thaws, and the rain, and watched for the thermometer to reach 45 degrees to spur the grass to start growing.

It wasn't like last year, waiting for the snow to melt, Sherry conceded. "But just getting good temperature consistency has been a struggle."

The forecast for Monday calls for partly cloudy skies and highs in the mid-70s. It's the first really mild weather in weeks, a signal for the stadium grass to grow, and a break for stadium employees who have spent their spring out in the cold.

"I hope so," said Sherry, her hands pulled up into her jacket sleeves for warmth. "I'm so over this."

frank.roylance@baltsun.com

twitter.com/froylance

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