Zach Severns slowly traced the edges of the field with a trimmer to make sure every piece of grass was in place.
With only the relentless sun and a few white clouds as witnesses, Severns applied his touch to each area of Lake Olmstead Stadium’s field.
The Augusta GreenJackets head groundskeeper’s hard work has resulted in one of the most well-conditioned fields Lake Olmstead has had in years. The grass is greener, the infield lips are lower and outfield patterns have appeared.
“This is my baby,” Severns said.
Before a three-game homestand against Kannapolis, Severns' work began around 7:30 a.m.
Severns cleaned the bullpens and took out trash left from the previous homestand. He ran errands, including picking up diesel fuel and supplies.
He began edging around 10 a.m. He trimmed every edge of grass on the field, from the warning track to the infield. By himself, it took all morning.
After a break, Severns mowed the grass. He let the sun bake the field during the hottest part of the day and took a break to do paperwork. As the sun began to go down, he watered the infield dirt and dragged it to a smooth, even level.
By the time he left, around 8:30 p.m., Severns’ field was prepared for the damage of the upcoming series.
“The infield dirt is what we spend the most time on,” he said. “That, and the mound and the plate; 100 percent of the game is played on the dirt.”
Severns took the job in Augusta this year with a rough infield that included big lips around the edges of the grass. He said the lip going up the mound was 4 inches high. He tilled up the infield, took out the lips and re-sodded around the mound.
He also widened the basepaths by a couple feet, got the back infield arc to its proper height and put in new base anchors, mound rubbers and a home plate.
Manager Mike Goff, and current players who previously played at Lake Olmstead, have complimented Severns’ work in making the playing surface smoother. A smoother infield means fewer chances for bad hops, and even potential injuries.
“I got about nine hours of sleep that week, because I got sick of looking at it,” Severns said of removing the lips. “You look at it and ask, ‘Can you live with this a year?’ Well, no, I’m not going to live with it. I’m going to tackle it.”
Severns has needed that same mentality to keep the grass looking its best in years. He said keeping it watered properly has been the biggest challenge.
The lack of an advanced irrigation system is a hurdle, but Severns has put down more nitrogen than normal and let the rye die out, allowing the Bermuda to “take off.” He also gives credit to timely rain showers.
Severns said it’s tougher to mow a pattern in Bermuda than rye grass, but his field has maintained one throughout the season.
“We’ve gotten thunderstorms when we needed them, and they’ve held off when they needed to hold off,” he said. “The Bermuda kicked off early. It worked out in our favor.”
While the weather has worked in Severns’ favor this year, he has to work around nature’s schedule at times. He said he plans as far as a week in advance according to the forecast, because he needs to know how often to water the infield before a homestand.
If he waters too much, the infield could become unplayable quicker during a rain shower. If he doesn’t water enough, the dirt could crack and loosen clay.
Severns said during the July Fourth homestand, when the temperature reached close to triple digits on the field but without the normal humidity, he watered the infield 24 times in one day to keep enough moisture in the dirt to be playable.
It’s all part of a process Severns learned from field experience.
He grew up a Giants fan on a farm in Dos Palos, Calif., and he worked for his father’s landscaping company.
He has worked six internships, including the Milwaukee Brewers and Louisville Bats, the Triple-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds.
He worked under two of the more well-known baseball groundskeepers in Milwaukee’s Gary Vanden Berg, who died of cancer in 2011, and Louisville’s Tom Nielsen.
“With Gary, you learned how to get to the top and how you should be when you get there,” Severns said. “With Tom, you learned what you need to do as a person to grow, to get that high.”
Severns said the combination of his enjoyment in agriculture and love for sports made the job decision easier. He has learned many things from previous experiences, including time management, leading a crew and being resilient when things don’t go his way, whether from equipment malfunctions or poor weather.
It also gives him a chance to be around a sport he loves.
“This is a way I could still stay in agriculture while I can still be around the game,” he said. “I figured there was more than one way to be around the show, and I wasn’t going to do that playing.”