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Wrigley renovations near completion

Wrigley renovations near completion

CHICAGO -- By noon Saturday, all of the new sod at Wrigley Field will be installed. By Opening Day 2008, the Cubs players won't have to worry about excessive rain delays or uneven turf.

The weather has cooperated with the installation of the new drainage system at Wrigley Field, and the project will be completed two weeks ahead of time. The final pieces of more than 100,000 square tons of sod are expected to be installed by midday Saturday.

Roger Bossard, head groundskeeper for the Chicago White Sox, a.k.a. the "Sodfather," coordinated the project in which the irrigation system, originally installed in 1935, was brought up to speed. Now, it's state of the art, Bossard said.

The new drainage system, which cost about $1.5 million to install, is designed to hold up to 60,000 gallons of water. The system is made up of more than 1.5 miles of plastic pipes, which are pitched so that gravity carries the rainwater toward a basin in the right-field corner. Now, if one inch of rain falls at Wrigley Field, the Cubs will be able to play 20 minutes later.

"This field now is comparable to other fields in the Major Leagues," Bossard said Friday of Wrigley Field, the second-oldest ballpark in the Major Leagues.

What outfielders may appreciate even more is that the warning track was expanded by three feet so that it's now 20-feet wide.

"That's huge," Bossard said. "They wanted to get back to the way the game is now. [Outfielders are] going to know now when the wall is coming, instead of running right into the wall, and I think that's important, and that's why the Cubs made the change."

Bossard eliminated the "crown," which encompassed the entire infield and an area extending 40 feet into the outfield. What it meant was not only a slow drainage system, but it made it tough for anyone in the dugouts to see beyond the pitcher.

Before, Cubs managers could see whoever was in right field from the waist up. Now, Lou Piniella will be able to see the right fielder from the shoes on up from the dugout.

Batters used to have to walk uphill to get to home plate. Not anymore.

"The difference is 14 inches," Bossard said. "When I came out here first and saw the field, when a runner ran around third base, he literally was going down a little bit of a hill, and now that area is completely flat. Taking it down 14 inches -- in my business, 14 inches is huge. It was a huge crown."

Bossard couldn't predict whether baserunners will be able to round third base a little tighter, but did predict better footing.

The crew had perfect weather to overhaul the field, but it wasn't all smooth sailing. Bossard said they discovered the base for goal posts from the days when Wrigley Field hosted football games. Those were tossed in the city dump. They also removed 14-28 inches of soil, and discovered sand underneath, which Bossard said he wasn't expecting.

The grass was delivered from Colorado, and is a hybrid bluegrass that Bossard said won't be stressed by hot, humid weather.

How much better is Wrigley? Bossard said he ran water to test the irrigation system in left field Thursday for 40 minutes, and could've gone longer. Roger Baird, the Cubs' head groundskeeper, said in the past, he couldn't run the water more than 30 minutes.

"I'm so happy for the Cubs organization and the players and Lou and obviously, Roger Baird, the head groundskeeper," Bossard said. "It's special for the groundskeepers."

So special, that Bossard and Baird left a little canister with their names on it somewhere under the new playing field.

"Obviously, there has to be some little thing to let them know that, 95 years from now when they tear it out again, that Bossard was here," Bossard said.

Bossard has overseen playing surface improvements at other Major League ballparks, and has had quite a record. Five times out of the last seven years, the team whose field he has worked on has won the World Series.

"It's pure luck," Bossard said. "I can't say I'd like to see the Cubs do it next year, obviously being a Sox person, but I hope the Cubs are in there playing against us."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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