Snowy Cell looks great to groundskeeper

A snowy Chicago winter isn't unwelcome at U.S. Cellular Field. Ron Vesely/Chicago White Sox

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- While most Chicago-area residents have been cursing all of the snow this winter, one guy says all the frozen precipitation has played right into his hands.

Chicago White Sox head groundskeeper and field guru Roger Bossard says that while snow isn’t good for the regular season, it is just what his primarily bluegrass playing surface needs during the harsh offseason months.

“Right now we have like 16 inches (of snow) still on the field,” said Bossard, who is currently keeping the White Sox’s spring training fields in shape until the middle of next month. “I’m not worried about the smothering because the depth (of snow) on the (grass). I am one of the few people in Chicago that does like snow but only to a certain period and time.”

When Bossard returns to U.S. Cellular Field on March 14, though, that’s when things will take a turn. An early March 31 Opening Day also presents a particular challenge.

“To be quite frank with you I have been worried the last two weeks about it and I called up my John Deere dealer about two weeks ago and I’ve literally got two auger-type of snow blowers ready,” Bossard said. “The regular home owner uses the little one for his driveway. This is bigger one it’s about 4½-foot wide. It has an auger in front where I could literally shoot the snow 20 or 30 feet.”

Bossard will pile all the remaining snow on the warning track starting on March 14 and a seven-ton truck will be brought in to carry the white stuff out to the parking lot where it will be dumped. But at that point, his challenges are only beginning.

The next course of action is to bring the field above the freezing mark, even if the outside temperature tries to dictate otherwise.

“Actually the last 10 years, I have never seen it like this at the new stadium, this bad,” Bossard said, adding that some real tests came at Old Comiskey Park. “Last year we had nine inches of snow total and the year before, near Opening Day it was 71 degrees. This is a change but it’s not something that I can’t handle because I’ve seen it before.”

Bossard’s field-preparation playbook will get a complete workout in March.

“The snow comes off, I turn the irrigation on,” Bossard said, noting that water out of the taps in Chicago is 48 degrees, even in the dead of winter.

Next comes ground-up charcoal that Bossard will sprinkle on the turf. The black charcoal attracts the sun and in turn, heats up the field. Finally, he will move the infield tarp all around the outfield, using it not only as a blanket of sorts, but also as another way to attract and hold the sun’s heat.

If the job still isn’t done, perhaps Bossard will add a new page to the harsh winter playbook. He knows some long days are ahead, but the challenge has him excited even after 48 years with the White Sox.

“Yeah, you know what, when you’re the groundskeeper that’s pretty much the story of your life,” Bossard said of days that can be 18 hours and even longer. “I have a nice big couch in (my office) there, and there has been a number of times when I’ve slept overnight. It’s all part of the job.”