By Cindy Atoji Keene
With some of the top athletes in the country, delivering a safe and playable field is a top priority for Jason Waldron, facilities manager for Harvard University Athletics. Waldron maintains more than 100 acres of natural grass and artificial turf fields, including eight baseball fields, tennis center, indoor and outdoor track, pool and hockey complex, and other stadiums.
But one of his biggest challenges in maintaining the outdoor athletic grounds isn’t the pests, weeds, or unpredictable weather, but overuse of the fields. “That’s something we always struggle with. It’s not just about a good maintenance program – highly trafficked fields with no rest can’t bounce back to the level we want it to. Whether natural or synthetic, the surfaces need rest so they can recover,” said Waldron, who also oversees five groundskeepers and other staff.
Q: How does a harsh winter like the last one affect what you do with the field? A: For a natural field, getting the grass infield – also called ‘skin’ – out of dormancy is a priority. It was such a cold spring that the grass didn’t green up, which creates a problem for us in April. The ground temperature needs to be consistently above around 40 degrees or so for the grass to begin growing. We put a heat blanket over the baseball field this year which speeds up the recovery process – this is something that the Red Sox do every year. The blanket has perforated holes so air and water can get through; when the sun’s UV rays hit the blanket, it heats up the ground.
Q: How do make sure that a baseball field is level? A: The last thing an infielder or outfielder wants is a ball that hops; it needs to have a true roll to it. Because a baseball, in particular, is so small, any imperfection, or high or low spot, needs to be adjusted. Players running and sliding can make bumps along the way. Mowing at a consistent height is important and also the maintenance team will come in and make adjustments not only on grass but infield ‘skin’ as well. We have a level we can use that spins around on a tripod as the field is being groomed – it tells you when the field needs to be smoothed out.
Q: You also manage building maintenance at Harvard. Some of Harvard’s buildings are very old – how are you working on energy efficiency?
A: Many of our buildings are very old and historic. The two boathouses were built around the 19th century; Harvard Stadium and the baseball pavilion also date back to the early 20th century. The buildings can be very inefficient so we’re obviously looking at updating the equipment to make them greener. In our hockey rink, we changed out our 750 watt florescent lights for 350-watt LED fixtures, which saved on utility and operating costs. This also improved the consistency of lighting, which pleased the coaches – there were no more dark shadows in certain areas.
Q: How did you get into this line of work? A: I’ve been here 10 years now; I was initially a sports management graduate from Springfield College. My first job was with the Lowell Spinners grounds crew, which was a great introduction to the field. I did the down-and-dirty work, including everything from cleaning concessions stands to repairing the bullpens. It helped me get my foot in the door. I also worked in Arizona, managing the spring training facility for the San Francisco Giants.
Q: Do you use your turf management skills to help the lawn at your own home?
A: I definitely take a lot of pride in my backyard in Hamilton and use the knowledge that I have to maintain it. But now that I have two kids, I don’t have as much time as I used to, so it doesn’t look as absolutely pristine at this point.