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Field day

Framingham family turns to artificial solution for backyard play

Paul Nardizzi watches a neighborhood soccer game on a patch of artificial turf he had installed in his Framingham backyard. Paul Nardizzi watches a neighborhood soccer game on a patch of artificial turf he had installed in his Framingham backyard. (Photos By Mark Wilson for The Boston Globe)
By Rich Fahey
Globe Correspondent / October 3, 2010

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FRAMINGHAM — Soccer is something the Nardizzis take seriously.

So it was no joke when the Framingham family decided to build a backyard soccer field, or pitch, using artificial turf.

Paul Nardizzi had played soccer at Dedham High and Bentley (class of 1989), coached high school and college teams, and still plays in adult leagues. His four sons — Bryant, 13, Bryce, 12, Jared, 10, and Trevor, 9 — play on local and travel teams in Framingham.

At 42, Nardizzi — a nationally known stand-up comic — is old enough to remember how the success of the Boston Bruins in the 1970s spawned a surge in hockey rinks, both indoor facilities and backyard ice sheets created by parents dreaming of a pro career or a Division 1 collegiate scholarship for their children.

In Nardizzi’s case, his sons were always playing soccer in the backyard, creating a flat, smooth, grassless surface that resisted his every attempt to cultivate a lawn there.

“They were always tracking dirt and mud into the house,’’ he said.

It was Eileen Nichols, the mother of Nardizzi’s wife, Elena, who had the brainstorm: “If you can’t grow grass there, why not put in some fake grass?’’

While the use of artificial turf for backyard putting greens or as landscaping in water-starved areas has become common, according to Rick Doyle, president of the Atlanta-based Synthetic Turf Council, families installing the material for a play area is something new.

As a result, Nardizzi was covering new ground when he started looking into a backyard pitch. He was pleased to find he didn’t need a permit from the town, and explored several varieties of artificial turf before settling on a thatched-style surface that resembles natural grass.

This summer he set about constructing his field of dreams. A friend in the landscaping business put down a base of sand, angled so water would drain off the field. Then a crew of four from a Pennsylvania-based company, Green Energy Turf, arrived to install the field on July 26, finishing it in just five hours.

Green Energy Turf representative Charles Doherty said the variety installed at the Nardizzi home is called Get’s Hybrid, a US-made composite of poly fibers in different sizes and shapes woven into a backing mat. He said his company gave the family some technical advice on grooming and maintenance, and provided a warranty.

Nardizzi said he had sought out a safe surface for his family. “We looked for organic products, lead free, et cetera, and came across Mr. Doherty somehow and went from there,’’ he said.

Doherty said he uses products that are nontoxic, and made from recyclable materials.

Framingham’s building commissioner, Michael Foley, said there is nothing in the town’s zoning bylaws that prohibit artificial turf in residential areas. There are restrictions on paving lots or using asphalt, as for a backyard basketball court; 30 percent of a lot’s square footage must be left open, he said. And properties bordering watersheds or buffer zones might require approval by the town’s Conservation Commission, Foley noted.

Nardizzi said lights will allow for night play, and he is seeking a working scoreboard to give the field more ambience.

“A school was giving away their old scoreboard, and I just missed getting it,’’ he said.

He ended up with a surface measuring 42 by 48 feet, about 2,000 square feet. By comparison, regulation soccer fields start at 150 by 300 feet, covering 45,000 square feet. Still, the Nardizzi family field is big enough for drills, shooting practice, and small-scale games.

Doyle, the industry official, said anyone installing artificial turf would have a choice of surfaces, based on how and where it would be used.

“You might be looking at a different system if you have small children or pets. In addition, we can match the color and appearance so it will closely resemble the grass in your area of the country,’’ he said.

He also said that New England continues to be a huge growth area for the turf industry, because of the toll that weather and heavy play take on grass fields. “In almost every case,’’ he said, “they’re looking to increase the playability of the space while also reducing maintenance.’’

Those attributes helped draw Nardizzi’s attention, while his sons are enjoying having an area where they can sharpen their skills and play 3-on-3 or 4-on-4 games with their friends.

“Sometimes, Dad comes out and plays with us,’’ said Bryce, a seventh-grader at Fuller Middle School. “But he doesn’t like to ref. He says we have to work things out for ourselves.’’

Considering his sons’ closeness in ages — Bryant is in the eighth grade at Fuller, while Jared and Trevor are a year apart at McCarthy Elementary School — Nardizzi admitted that the philosophy sometimes can lead to heavy-duty physical contact.

As far as Nardizzi’s career in show business, Bryce said he and his brothers don’t mind when their father makes them part of his act: “It’s really fun.’’

Nardizzi has been working as a comic since 1990, and has been a familiar face on the national circuit since 1994, with multiple appearances on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien’’ and the Comedy Central channel, and a first-place finish at the Boston Comedy Festival. He has also dabbled in writing, with his book “602 Reasons to Be Ticked Off’’ published in 2004, and has released two humor CDs and a DVD.

In his stand-up routine, Nardizzi pokes fun at his own athletic prowess, and often uses his family as fodder, so it makes sense soccer turns up there too.

A sample: “Some parents pay their kids to score or hit home runs. It’s ridiculous, I never do that. My son comes off the field the other day and says, ‘Dad, I scored three goals.’ I said, ‘Well, I taught you all that stuff, give me 50 bucks.’

“The plan is now affecting the team, though. The other day he missed a wide open net. I said, ‘What happened?’ He said, ‘I couldn’t afford it.’ ’’

Nardizzi may use the backyard pitch to do some group or one-on-one instruction sessions. But the real value of the field is apparent when his sons’ friends come over, or when birthday parties end up with a soccer free-for-all in the backyard.

The cost may have been “somewhere north of $7,000,’’ he said, but knowing where his sons are spending most of their time? Priceless.

Rich Fahey can be reached at faheywrite@yahoo.com.

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