Beyond the Bricks
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Beyond the Bricks

Field Renovation Underway at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark

Latest technology to be included in first field overhaul since the ballpark opened in 1998

An offseason makeover is currently underway on the field at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.

More than 1,500 regular-season Triple-A baseball games have graced the surface since the ballpark opened in 1998.

The field that supported everything from Triple-A championships, to high school and Big 12 contests, to MLB exhibitions, concerts, snow tubing, monster trucks, bull riding and more has since been stripped away following the conclusion of the Oklahoma City Dodgers’ season this fall.

Unearthed, native Oklahoma dirt now sits exposed about two feet below where the Dodgers’ cleats dug in last summer. Months of labor and precision grading are ahead as the playing surface is rebuilt layer by layer during the coming months, installing new drainage, irrigation, infield and warning track material and grass.

Once players and fans enter Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark for the start of the 2019 season in April, a new green welcome mat will await as the layers will be topped with completely new sod for the first time since the field was initially constructed in the fall of 1997 — months before the ballpark hosted its first game in April 1998.

“It will be exciting to get down to a brand-new field,” said Monte McCoy, who has served as Head Groundskeeper at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark since it opened.

In September 2017, Oklahoma City voters approved bond propositions and sales tax initiatives known as the “Better Streets, Safer City” projects. A 10-year general obligation bond package worth $967 million was part of that initiative, created to invest in streets, police and fire facilities, parks and recreation facilities and other needs.

The field renovation was first identified in 2010 as a need for Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, which is owned by the City of Oklahoma City. The renovation, priced at more than $1 million, is funded by these bonds as part of the improvements for existing parks.

“We were lucky to be toward the top of the list,” said Michael Byrnes, President/General Manager of the Oklahoma City Dodgers.

Once funds were approved for the project, team and city officials spent the spring and summer months collaborating with local firm Studio Architecture, and consultant Mike Boekholder, Director of Field Operations for the Philadelphia Phillies, to design plans for the new field in Bricktown. Boekholder has consulted on several baseball field renovations throughout the United States.

Once designs were approved, the City of Oklahoma City posted a request for proposal for the project. Submitted bids were opened Oct. 3 and the project was awarded to local contractor CGC the following week.

CGC began demolition of the field in October.

The original field surface layers included between 16–24 inches of material. About 16 inches of material was originally installed, but as the sod and its roots grew over time and top dressings were added to smooth the surface, the field built up about 5–8 inches above its original height.

More than 500 dump truck loads of dirt, sand, sod and other material were hauled out of the ballpark this fall —totaling more than 13 million pounds. Workers dug an average of about 22 inches deep across the 120,000-square-foot baseball field, including the removal of original drainage and irrigation infrastructure.

Now the field rebuild begins, and will take about three months.

Layers of drainage, sub base, pea gravel, irrigation and root zone material (a mixture of sand and peat moss) will be topped with specialized infield and warning track material and sod.

“It all sounds so simple,” McCoy said. “You are taking it out and putting it back in, but it is a little more intricate than that.”

A lot of science is involved to maximize the available technology.

Every 500 tons of material brought in will be tested to make sure it meets rigorous United States Golf Association specs for golf course greens that ensure proper drainage of sand-based athletic fields designed using a similar method.

“Most native soil fields are built for drainage to come off horizontally,” McCoy said. “These sand-based fields and golf course greens are made to go through and out. You don’t have that sharp of a grade on it. It’s pretty flat.”

This new playing surface is designed to drain an incredible 24 inches of rain per hour — about nine inches of water per hour more than the original playing surface.

And most of that water will be reused.

A new gravity-based water reclamation system is being installed as part of the field renovation.

Seven tanks, each measuring 12.5 feet in height, will be buried in the right field area of the warning track in front of the visiting bullpen to hold water for reuse by the new irrigation system, saving resources and money.

The storage tanks will have a combined capacity of about 30,000 gallons, which translates to an estimated annual savings of close to 1.9 million gallons of water.

“This new state-of-the-art reclamation system allows us to be on the forefront of water conservation efforts in our city,” Byrnes said. “Storing and reusing this valuable resource is the environmentally responsible thing to do and we are proud of this new addition to our ballpark.”

Additional drainage is also being installed in front of the dugouts and in the warning track to assist during rainy conditions.

One of the largest innovations in the last 20 years is the specialized material used in the infield dirt and warning track areas, McCoy said.

This new “engineered infield mix” is designed to have specific percentages of sand, silt, and clay included, as well as specific sand particle angular sizing.

Those areas will now dry faster, and the stability of that mixture will last longer in adverse conditions, benefitting the grounds crew, fans and players during Oklahoma’s unpredictable climate.

“We will have a better ability to play through inclement weather,” Byrnes said. “We hope that will lead to fewer weather delays or postponements.”

A new variety of grass will be the crowning piece of the project.

About 95,000 square feet of drought-tolerant Bermuda grass called TifTuf™ will be installed at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.

McCoy and OKC Dodgers Sports Field Services already overseeded the ballpark’s future sod, which is currently growing in northern Texas, with rye grass and will continue to travel to monitor the sod twice a month until installation in February.

“You are very excited, but you are very anxious because I like to have control of it,” McCoy said.

The Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark grounds crew will have access to grow blankets if needed to protect the grass once it is installed depending on the weather that time of year.

McCoy expects the overseeded rye grass will need about three weeks to take root depending on the Oklahoma weather. The grass needs to be secure in order to prevent sliding, for example when players plant their feet or attempt to turn quickly on the grass.

“Until it’s established, you can’t play on it,” McCoy said. “It’s a safety issue.”

The Dodgers open their 2019 Pacific Coast League schedule at home against league newcomer San Antonio on Thursday, April 4.

Fans will then be able to view the new field each and every time they walk through the gates at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark — a location the Oklahoma City Dodgers are proud to call home.

“We are very fortunate to have such a strong relationship with the City of Oklahoma City,” Byrnes said. “And this project is another prime example of our partnership.

“This new playing surface puts us on the leading edge of field technology. The renovation allows our ballpark to remain a showpiece for our city and for us to continue to provide a top-tier facility for our players competing here via our affiliation with the Los Angeles Dodgers.”

Interested in purchasing a piece of Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark history?

Jars of original Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark field dirt are now available for purchase at the OKC Dodgers Team Store, in person or online at shopokcdodgers.com.

Sales benefit the nonprofit OKC Dodgers Baseball Foundation.

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