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Before opening day, ballparks rush to thaw fields

  • This Monday, March 17, 2014 photo taken in Chicago, shows U.S. Cellular Field, home to the Chicago White Sox baseball team, as members of head groundskeeper Roger Bossard's crew work to ready the field for opening day after one of the most brutal winters the city has ever seen. Brossard described the unusual conditions including 30 inches of permafrost, and having to remove 400 tons of snow from the playing field, as the perfect storm.  (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

    This Monday, March 17, 2014 photo taken in Chicago, shows U.S. Cellular Field, home to the Chicago White Sox baseball team, as members of head groundskeeper Roger Bossard's crew work to ready the field for opening day after one of the most brutal winters the city has ever seen. Brossard described the unusual conditions including 30 inches of permafrost, and having to remove 400 tons of snow from the playing field, as the perfect storm. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

  • This Monday, March 17, 2014 photo taken in Chicago, shows snow covered front row seats at U.S. Cellular Field, home to the Chicago White Sox baseball team. The White Sox open their season on Monday, March 31, 2014, against the Baltimore Orioles. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

    This Monday, March 17, 2014 photo taken in Chicago, shows snow covered front row seats at U.S. Cellular Field, home to the Chicago White Sox baseball team. The White Sox open their season on Monday, March 31, 2014, against the Baltimore Orioles. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

  • This Monday, March 17, 2014 photo taken in Chicago, shows heaters trying to melt three inches of ice near third base at U.S. Cellular Field, home to the Chicago White Sox baseball team. The White Sox open their season on Monday, March 31, 2014, against the Baltimore Orioles. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

    This Monday, March 17, 2014 photo taken in Chicago, shows heaters trying to melt three inches of ice near third base at U.S. Cellular Field, home to the Chicago White Sox baseball team. The White Sox open their season on Monday, March 31, 2014, against the Baltimore Orioles. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

  • This Monday, March 17, 2014 photo taken in Chicago, shows U.S. Cellular Field, home to the Chicago White Sox baseball team, as groundskeepers work to ready the field for opening day after one of the most brutal winters the city has ever seen. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

    This Monday, March 17, 2014 photo taken in Chicago, shows U.S. Cellular Field, home to the Chicago White Sox baseball team, as groundskeepers work to ready the field for opening day after one of the most brutal winters the city has ever seen. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

  • This Monday, March 17, 2014 photo taken in Chicago, shows a tarp covering part of U.S. Cellular Field, home to the Chicago White Sox baseball team, as workers continue to ready the field for opening day, after one of the most brutal winters the city has ever seen.  (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

    This Monday, March 17, 2014 photo taken in Chicago, shows a tarp covering part of U.S. Cellular Field, home to the Chicago White Sox baseball team, as workers continue to ready the field for opening day, after one of the most brutal winters the city has ever seen. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

  •  In this Monday, March 17, 2014 photo taken in Chicago, Chicago White Sox baseball team head groundskeeper Roger Bossard speaks about preparing the teams home field for opening day after one of the most brutal winters the city has ever seen. Brossard described the unusual conditions including 30 inches of permafrost, and having to remove 400 tons of snow from the playing field, as the perfect storm. He is currently heating the field and its underground drainage system to speed up the thawing process. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

    In this Monday, March 17, 2014 photo taken in Chicago, Chicago White Sox baseball team head groundskeeper Roger Bossard speaks about preparing the teams home field for opening day after one of the most brutal winters the city has ever seen. Brossard described the unusual conditions including 30 inches of permafrost, and having to remove 400 tons of snow from the playing field, as the perfect storm. He is currently heating the field and its underground drainage system to speed up the thawing process. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

  • In this March 13, 2014 photo, snow is shown behind home plate at Comerica Park in Detroit. With opening day less than two weeks away, this frigid, snowy winter is showing no signs of subsiding. In places like Detroit and Chicago, the show must go on. The Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox are scheduled to host their openers March 31. Other cold-weather cities like Boston and Minnesota have a little more time before their first home games, but the unusual weather is adding a few challenges to the process of preparing the field. (AP Photo/Detroit Free Press, Diane Weiss)  DETROIT NEWS OUT, TV OUT, INTERNET OUT, MAGS OUT, NO SALES, MANDATORY CREDIT DETROIT FREE PRESS

    In this March 13, 2014 photo, snow is shown behind home plate at Comerica Park in Detroit. With opening day less than two weeks away, this frigid, snowy winter is showing no signs of subsiding. In places like Detroit and Chicago, the show must go on. The Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox are scheduled to host their openers March 31. Other cold-weather cities like Boston and Minnesota have a little more time before their first home games, but the unusual weather is adding a few challenges to the process of preparing the field. (AP Photo/Detroit Free Press, Diane Weiss) DETROIT NEWS OUT, TV OUT, INTERNET OUT, MAGS OUT, NO SALES, MANDATORY CREDIT DETROIT FREE PRESS

  • In this March 13, 2014, file photo, statues of Detroit Tigers' Hal Newhouser, left, Charlie Gehringer, center,  and Hank Greenberg, right,  look over Comerica Park that is still snow covered, in Detroit. In places like Detroit and Chicago, the show must go on. The Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox are scheduled to host their openers March 31.  (AP Photo/Detroit Free Press, Diane Weiss) DETROIT NEWS OUT, TV OUT, INTERNET OUT, MAGS OUT, NO SALES, MANDATORY CREDIT DETROIT FREE PRESS

    In this March 13, 2014, file photo, statues of Detroit Tigers' Hal Newhouser, left, Charlie Gehringer, center, and Hank Greenberg, right, look over Comerica Park that is still snow covered, in Detroit. In places like Detroit and Chicago, the show must go on. The Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox are scheduled to host their openers March 31. (AP Photo/Detroit Free Press, Diane Weiss) DETROIT NEWS OUT, TV OUT, INTERNET OUT, MAGS OUT, NO SALES, MANDATORY CREDIT DETROIT FREE PRESS

  • In this March 13, 2014 photo, workers inside of Comerica Park in Detroit work on removing the snow from the field as they prepare for the Detroit Tigers opening day on March 31. With opening day less than two weeks away, this frigid, snowy winter is showing no signs of subsiding. In places like Detroit and Chicago, the show must go on. Other cold-weather cities like Boston and Minnesota have a little more time before their first home games, but the unusual weather is adding a few challenges to the process of preparing the field. (AP Photo/Detroit Free Press, Diane Weiss) DETROIT NEWS OUT, TV OUT, INTERNET OUT, MAGS OUT, NO SALES, MANDATORY CREDIT DETROIT FREE PRESS

    In this March 13, 2014 photo, workers inside of Comerica Park in Detroit work on removing the snow from the field as they prepare for the Detroit Tigers opening day on March 31. With opening day less than two weeks away, this frigid, snowy winter is showing no signs of subsiding. In places like Detroit and Chicago, the show must go on. Other cold-weather cities like Boston and Minnesota have a little more time before their first home games, but the unusual weather is adding a few challenges to the process of preparing the field. (AP Photo/Detroit Free Press, Diane Weiss) DETROIT NEWS OUT, TV OUT, INTERNET OUT, MAGS OUT, NO SALES, MANDATORY CREDIT DETROIT FREE PRESS

  • This Monday, March 17, 2014 photo taken in Chicago, shows a tarp covering part of U.S. Cellular Field, home to the Chicago White Sox baseball team, as workers continue to ready the field for opening day, after one of the most brutal winters the city has ever seen.  (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

    This Monday, March 17, 2014 photo taken in Chicago, shows a tarp covering part of U.S. Cellular Field, home to the Chicago White Sox baseball team, as workers continue to ready the field for opening day, after one of the most brutal winters the city has ever seen. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

  • This Monday, March 17, 2014 photo taken in Chicago, shows U.S. Cellular Field, home to the Chicago White Sox baseball team, as members of head groundskeeper Roger Bossard's crew work to ready the field for opening day after one of the most brutal winters the city has ever seen. Brossard described the unusual conditions including 30 inches of permafrost, and having to remove 400 tons of snow from the playing field, as the perfect storm.  (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
  • This Monday, March 17, 2014 photo taken in Chicago, shows snow covered front row seats at U.S. Cellular Field, home to the Chicago White Sox baseball team. The White Sox open their season on Monday, March 31, 2014, against the Baltimore Orioles. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
  • This Monday, March 17, 2014 photo taken in Chicago, shows heaters trying to melt three inches of ice near third base at U.S. Cellular Field, home to the Chicago White Sox baseball team. The White Sox open their season on Monday, March 31, 2014, against the Baltimore Orioles. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
  • This Monday, March 17, 2014 photo taken in Chicago, shows U.S. Cellular Field, home to the Chicago White Sox baseball team, as groundskeepers work to ready the field for opening day after one of the most brutal winters the city has ever seen. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
  • This Monday, March 17, 2014 photo taken in Chicago, shows a tarp covering part of U.S. Cellular Field, home to the Chicago White Sox baseball team, as workers continue to ready the field for opening day, after one of the most brutal winters the city has ever seen.  (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
  •  In this Monday, March 17, 2014 photo taken in Chicago, Chicago White Sox baseball team head groundskeeper Roger Bossard speaks about preparing the teams home field for opening day after one of the most brutal winters the city has ever seen. Brossard described the unusual conditions including 30 inches of permafrost, and having to remove 400 tons of snow from the playing field, as the perfect storm. He is currently heating the field and its underground drainage system to speed up the thawing process. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
  • In this March 13, 2014 photo, snow is shown behind home plate at Comerica Park in Detroit. With opening day less than two weeks away, this frigid, snowy winter is showing no signs of subsiding. In places like Detroit and Chicago, the show must go on. The Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox are scheduled to host their openers March 31. Other cold-weather cities like Boston and Minnesota have a little more time before their first home games, but the unusual weather is adding a few challenges to the process of preparing the field. (AP Photo/Detroit Free Press, Diane Weiss)  DETROIT NEWS OUT, TV OUT, INTERNET OUT, MAGS OUT, NO SALES, MANDATORY CREDIT DETROIT FREE PRESS
  • In this March 13, 2014, file photo, statues of Detroit Tigers' Hal Newhouser, left, Charlie Gehringer, center,  and Hank Greenberg, right,  look over Comerica Park that is still snow covered, in Detroit. In places like Detroit and Chicago, the show must go on. The Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox are scheduled to host their openers March 31.  (AP Photo/Detroit Free Press, Diane Weiss) DETROIT NEWS OUT, TV OUT, INTERNET OUT, MAGS OUT, NO SALES, MANDATORY CREDIT DETROIT FREE PRESS
  • In this March 13, 2014 photo, workers inside of Comerica Park in Detroit work on removing the snow from the field as they prepare for the Detroit Tigers opening day on March 31. With opening day less than two weeks away, this frigid, snowy winter is showing no signs of subsiding. In places like Detroit and Chicago, the show must go on. Other cold-weather cities like Boston and Minnesota have a little more time before their first home games, but the unusual weather is adding a few challenges to the process of preparing the field. (AP Photo/Detroit Free Press, Diane Weiss) DETROIT NEWS OUT, TV OUT, INTERNET OUT, MAGS OUT, NO SALES, MANDATORY CREDIT DETROIT FREE PRESS
  • This Monday, March 17, 2014 photo taken in Chicago, shows a tarp covering part of U.S. Cellular Field, home to the Chicago White Sox baseball team, as workers continue to ready the field for opening day, after one of the most brutal winters the city has ever seen.  (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

In all his years as a groundskeeper for the Chicago White Sox, Roger Bossard has never faced anything quite like this.

The snow that piled up at U.S. Cellular Field could be dealt with easily enough. It’s Chicago, after all. But the frost in the ground can be measured in feet, not inches. To ready the field for the first pitch, Bossard is overseeing an effort akin to blowing a gigantic hair dryer under a tarp to pump hot air onto the field and thaw it out. Crews have been chipping away at ice near the right field line with shovels.

And opening day is less than two weeks away.

“This has actually been the perfect storm for me,” Bossard said. “I’ve been in this for 45 years and I’ve seen a lot of snow. Certainly, that’s not hard to handle. ... My problem actually is the permafrost. I’ve actually never run into where I’ve got 30 inches of permafrost.”

Groundskeepers all over baseball are scrambling to help their ballparks recover from months of snow and freezing temperatures that left fields looking more ready for cross-country skiers than bats and balls.

Like the White Sox, the Detroit Tigers are scheduled to play at home on March 31, when the regular season begins in earnest with 13 games. The Minnesota Twins – who for so long played in the indoor confines of the Metrodome – have been digging out from their own snowy surroundings at Target Field. They at least have until April 7 before they have to play a home game.

Points farther south have been affected, too.

“It’s rare that we get snow as bad as we’ve had this winter,” said Nicole McFadyen, head groundskeeper at Camden Yards in Baltimore. Luckily, McFadyen caught a break just in time: The snow is melting because the sun’s reflection is heating the stadium.

Baltimore received 26 inches of snow from December through February, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That was almost a 50 percent increase from an average winter, but it was nothing compared to what Chicago (66.7 inches) and Detroit (78 inches) are dealing with. Boston had 56.4 inches over that three-month period, and Cleveland had 65.

The worst may be over in terms of cold weather, but the outlook for opening day isn’t all that promising. From March 26 through April 1, there’s a decent chance of below-normal temperatures all over the eastern half of the country, particularly near the Great Lakes.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking.

“The back’s against the wall a little bit,” Bossard said.

Bossard estimated that his crew removed over 400 tons of snow last weekend. Snowblowers and plows can help, but it’s a delicate operation: Plows can only do so much before there’s a risk of damage to the field.

There’s a certain charm to a football game played in the snow on a raggedy, chewed-up field – but baseball is supposed to be about sunshine and soft grass. Nobody ever waxes poetic about the frozen tundra of Fenway Park.

Even in the warm summer months, baseball fields are meticulously manicured to prevent bad-hop grounders, crumbling mounds and any number of other potential problems. If the field is too slick because of cold conditions, players could get hurt, and a rock-hard surface obviously isn’t ideal for an outfielder trying to make a diving catch.

Detroit also brought in heaters to blow hot air under the infield tarp. The Tigers haven’t had to worry about the grass at Comerica Park because, well, there hasn’t been any.

The Tigers are re-sodding their field after it was used for part of the NHL’s Winter Classic festivities. The outfield right now consists of a sandy base that looks nothing like a baseball field.

A shipment of Kentucky bluegrass is scheduled to arrive today, and team vice president Ron Colangelo said this was essentially the timetable all along. Colangelo said the process of installing the new grass should take only a few days, giving the team a bit of a grace period even if more bad weather comes through.

“Obviously, Mother Nature’s been incredibly generous in the amount of snow that she’s been offering,” Colangelo said. “The plan is on schedule.”

The Twins are also confident, and have a stadium built to handle the cold. They began playing at their open-air ballpark in 2010, and it’s well equipped to combat the remnants of winter.

“We have a state-of-the-art heating system that allows us to keep the field at a constant temperature no matter what the winter brings,” Twins President Dave St. Peter said. “We worry more about the seating bowl and making sure that the pedestrian plazas and walkways and gate locations are dry and ice-free and safe. We spend just as much time if not more on those areas.”

The Twins begin the season on the road – something St. Peter said the team requests every season. Baltimore won’t have that luxury this time. The Orioles are at home March 31 against the defending champion Boston Red Sox. That same day, the Tigers host Kansas City and the White Sox welcome Minnesota to what Bossard hopes will be a thawed-out opener on Chicago’s South Side.

He’s optimistic, but there are still plenty of reasons to be cautious.

“If I had this type of frost line on opening day, I would tell (Manager Robin Ventura) that he couldn’t play. That’s how severe it is. I’ve never said anything like that before,” Bossard said. “But we have two weeks, so I’m comfortable.”

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