CHICAGO -- Affectionately known as "The Sodfather," Chicago White Sox head groundkeeper Roger Bossard will be put to the test over the next two weeks.
Bossard said Monday that backs are against the wall with Opening Day at U.S. Cellular Field set for March 31, but he remains steadfast in his determination to have a playable field.
The left-field grass is brown from wind burn, the right field corner is encased in six inches of ice, much of the sun-drenched warning track is a mud bog, the infield is being thawed with an industrial heater and the visitors' dugout remains filled with snow.
And that isn't even the worst part. The brutally cold temperatures this winter froze the ground under the playing field and Bossard is doing all he can to eliminate what he calls "permafrost."
"I've been in this for over 45 years and I have seen a lot of snow and certainly that is not hard to handle," Bossard said. "This weekend I had my whole crew in and they took off 400 tons (of snow). "My problem is the permafrost. I have actually never run into 30 inches of permafrost."
Without temperatures of at least 50 degrees or higher for an extended period, Bossard said the permafrost won't go away before the March 31 opener so he has taken to drastic measures of not only covering the field with the rain tarp and blowing heaters underneath, but he is also forcing hot air into the field drainage system to supply heat even further below.
His deadline to have the field ready is actually one day before the opener since manager Robin Ventura plans on holding a full-team workout on March 30.
Old tactics like spreading crushed charcoal on the field and bathing the playing surface in tap water that typically registers in the high 40-degree range won't quite work until temperatures rise a little. According to weather.com, the 10-day forecast has just two days in Chicago with high temperatures expected to exceed 45 degrees. Bossard said there could be light snow overnight Monday into Tuesday.
"Our backs are against the wall a little bit, but I have a good crew," Bossard said. "I'm doing everything I can here and I'm really comfortable that we will not only be able to open on Opening Day but to have the workout the day before."
It's just one more issue created by one of the coldest Chicago winters on record.
"I've never seen this," said Bossard, who will ask for an increased budget this year in order to deal with all the issues. "This is really sort of special, but you know what, it's a heck of a challenge for me and I'm up for it. This is the same thing when Bill Veeck was here with Disco Demolition Night. I remember going home then and saying to my dad, ‘I'm not quite sure I'm doing the right thing now.'"