Nov. 22, 2013
By Michael Kasiborski
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you. Michiganders take pride in the natural qualities of our state, starting with the unique geography. Want to know where we're from? We're just as likely to show you our hand as we are to try and explain it.
So it's no surprise that the design mowed into the outfield at Alumni Field in the Wilpon Complex for NCAA Super Regional weekend May 24-25, 2013, captured the attention of so many people -- and was captured by so many cell phone cameras. No one could remember seeing anything like it.
"It was going to be my last pattern before we switched to the artificial surface," said Jason DeMink, groundskeeper at the Wilpon Complex. "I wanted to go out with a bang, I really did."
The Super Regional, which pitted Michigan against Louisiana-Lafayette, would see the last games played on natural grass in the outfield. Renovations for the field called for AstroTurf installation as soon as the weekend concluded.
So DeMink mulled the idea of putting a design in the outfield grass with fellow groundskeeper Tony Pell that he had never seen before: the map of Michigan.
"I thought of it probably two days before (the Super Regional)," said DeMink. "I really wanted to put it all out there and show what the Michigan grounds crew can do."
DeMink, who honed his craft at the legendary Fenway Park, started shaping the outfield grass along with Pell and the grounds team. They rolled, watered, swept and mowed the grass into Michigan's distinct outline.
"We walked it out and kept adjusting, we'd go up in the stands and look at it," said DeMink. "We had to get the bays and Leelanau peninsula out there. It was the most intricate (design) that I've done so far, no straight lines except for the bottom of the state."
DeMink says Alumni Field was the perfect spot for his ode to the Great Lakes State. The cozy confines offer an up-close view of the outfield grass and the higher seats afford a better perspective.
Recently DeMink submitted his map of Michigan design to a mowing contest organized by the Sports Turf Managers Association. The design is up against submissions from MLS stadiums, Triple A baseball parks and college fields from across the country. The winner will be announced on Dec. 2 ,and will receive praise from his or her peers, but nothing else.
"Now that we are artificial surface, I want this really bad," said DeMink. "People say it's a giant canvas and I definitely had a lot of artistic freedom here. It was a big thrill for me and a big thrill for the guys."
On that Super Regional Saturday, when the final out was recorded and a Michigan victory was in the books, the celebration was on. With a roaring crowd cheering on the World Series-bound Wolverines, the 21 members of the team raced to the outfield to stand in centerfield. They jumped up and down on a faint block M that DeMink added to the map to mark Ann Arbor.
"It was a good moment and we all loved it. It validates what you do."
To vote in the contest, visit the Sports Turf Managers Association Facebook page: www.facebook.com/fieldexperts.