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Express rev up plan to install new field at Dell Diamond

A mutated strain of grass has forced Round Rock Express officials to replace the field at Dell Diamond for the second time in three years — but not before they turned some ground-shaking monster trucks loose in the outfield.

Nearly 20,000 people took in the two-day spectacle at the start of October, seeing the typically pristine baseball field transformed into a makeshift racecourse and a rodeo ring for the TRAXXAS Monster Truck Destruction Tour.

It’s not every day at Dell Diamond that you see cowboys riding bulls in the infield while monster trucks crash down on rusty coupes and sedans in the background. It’s even rarer to see an event like this inside of a baseball stadium because of the physical toll these five-ton trucks can exert on the playing surface.

But with a new field on the way, Express officials wanted to welcome Bigfoot, Skully and their 1,500-horsepower friends for one of the most unique events seen at Dell Diamond.

“It was the only reason we could look at doing an event like this,” said J.J. Gottsch, chief operating officer for Ryan Sanders Baseball. “Knowing we were going to replace it, the potential damage to the field wasn’t a concern.”

Dell Diamond’s no stranger to non-baseball events — concerts and Liga MX soccer matches come to mind — but seeing more than 10,000 cubic yards of dirt cover nearly every inch of the field required a special set of circumstances that developed over the past three years.

In February of 2014, Tri-Tex Grass, a sod company from Tioga, replaced the field at Dell Diamond for the first time since the ballpark opened in 2000. Express officials were impressed by work the company previously had completed, including at Globe Life Park in Arlington and FC Dallas’ Toyota Stadium in Frisco.

However, the Bermuda Tifway 419 sod installed at Dell Diamond was found to have a mutation that caused parts of the field to grow more quickly than others and led the grass to spread into dirt areas such as the basepaths and warning track. The Express grounds crew didn’t realize there was a problem until the growing season arrived in June of 2014.

“This thing was just so aggressive,” said Nick Rozdilski, head groundskeeper for the Express. “It probably took over 15 percent of the field the first year and then the second year 50 (percent) and then this year 75-80 (percent).”

Because there was no way to quell the mutation, Rozdilski said, the grounds crew had to work harder every passing day to keep the field immaculate and game-ready. As the problem worsened, team officials decided to replace the field.

Work on the project began Oct. 11, with crews from Ryan Sanders Sports Turf Surfaces, a division of Ryan Sanders Baseball, tearing out the old grass. Installation of roughly 96,000 square feet of new sod will begin Tuesday, said Jill Cacic, vice president of public relations and communications for the Triple-A Express.

When the project is completed by mid-November, Dell Diamond will be one of the first sports fields in Texas to use TIFTUF Bermuda grass, which Tri-Tex Grass provided free of charge. The new grass is expected to withstand more foot traffic.

“We’ve got a tremendous ballpark and great support from the community and the city of Round Rock,” Gottsch said. “We want to show it off, not just for our 72 home baseball games a year, but for other events for our fans as well.”

Though Gottsch said monster trucks aren’t likely to return any time soon, other non-baseball events already have been scheduled at Dell Diamond. USA Rugby will face Brazil as part of the Americas Rugby Championship on Feb. 11, and Gottsch also expects to schedule a Liga MX    match next summer after the success of two previous matches. Liga MX is the premier soccer league in Mexico.

And then there’s the 2017 home opener for the Express on April 6 against the Nashville Sounds.

“So much has changed in the past five years that you’re really not running a baseball field anymore,” Rozdilski said. “You’re running an event field where they happen to play baseball.”

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