Swan Field goes from gray to green this month as the rocky substrate gets carpeted with the plush plastic of artificial grass.
The guy sewing it all together — literally — is named Mark Gregory. He and his daughter Samantha are from Upstate New York. They’ll be here for the next three weeks stitching together the 15-foot-wide rolls of turf.
They use a machine that’s adapted from the technology that sews up bags of dog food and charcoal, and if the field holds together as well as those maddening bags, it’ll stay tight and snug forever. (Tip from Mark: “Don’t try to open those bags by pulling the end of the thread. Cut it about an inch into the seam and it’ll open right up.”)
Marks says he’s one of only about 200 people in the entire country who make their living stitching turf surfaces. He has been doing it for four years and figures he’s done 28 fields. The most recent gig was in Anchorage. “It sucked,” says Samantha. Reason for the suckage include snow and constant drizzle in 50-some degree temperatures. “The sun came out once, ” adds Mark. “We took a picture of Mt. McKinley 130 miles away. It was the only day you could see it.”
Here’s how the process works. With the first giant spool of turf unrolled, its neighbor is unfurled on top of it, face to face:
The stitching machine — usually operated by Mark Gregory but on this day (and for these 18″ at least) by Haverford’s very own Steve Emerson — connects them like the binding of a book:
Next, the gang grabs the edge and runs on the count of three, opening the “book” so that the second piece is now lying face-up:
The third piece will be laid face-down on this now-face-up second piece. It’ll get stitched into place, and on they will go, unroll-stitch-open up-unroll, down the field. Boundary lines are woven into the surface, but lines on the playing area are sewn in later using 4″ wide strips that Mark and Samantha have cut, by hand, from those enormous spools:
Mark says he has never screwed up by, say, putting the goal line at the 20, but recalls a job that required him to fix others’ work. “What a mess! The lines around the coaches’ box were all crazy.” Likewise, he hasn’t ever stitched himself to the carpet, though admits blistered fingers from the 350-degree hot glue that keeps edges in place. “And remember that guy who got caulk in his underarm hair?” recalls Samantha. (Surely “that guy” hasn’t forgotten, either.)
When the carpet is laid, sand and rubber pellets will get raked into the surface creating a soft pad that mimics the density of real earth.
Mark says he has no idea where the next assignment will take him; as for Samantha, she hits the books at community college later this month and can’t wait to check out of their motel. “Fleas!”
Swan Field is named in honor of the late Athletic Director Dana Swan. Watch this space for details about the dedication ceremony this fall.