Gwinnett Braves stadium takes shape with arrival of sod

BUFORD - Mounds of dirt and dust-covered roads may abut Ga. Highway 20, but beyond the long-familiar sites of construction crews, dirt movers and cranes now sits a bright reminder of a welcomed end.

Standing on the ring of matted mud and looking down at what will be the Gwinnett Braves minor league baseball park, the field steals the show. The past weekend's unusual snow delayed the start - but will not delay completion - of sodding the new field, and the fresh sod complemented Thursday's blue skies and rising temperatures.

"This puts us in good shape," head groundskeeper Gerry Huppmann said of the grass, which will make its debut at the Class AAA team's April 17 home opener.

After Monday's snow delay, workers from Georgia's Precision Turf started working more than 12 hours a day laying the foundation of gravel and sand. Four inches of gravel and 10 inches of sand went down before any of the Tifton Bermuda started rolling onto the field. By Thursday afternoon, the crew finished the infield and had begun on the outfield.

"All we do is work," said the project manager for Precision Turf, Jonathan Holland.

Holland, whose company has done work for Georgia Tech, the University of Georgia, North Georgia and Pace Academy, said the sod should be completely rolled out by Sunday evening. And the stadium's completion date remains April 1.

Along with the sod, foul poles and lights are up, almost all the seats are in place and new glass doors and windows hang in the luxury boxes. A field-level LCD board runs along the left field wall and the 30-foot by 40-foot video screen looms over the outfield.

"This is state-of-the-art, it really is," Gwinnett Braves General Manager Bruce Baldwin said.

But now the focus is on the grass. As soon as the sod is down, crews will begin to mow, Huppmann said.

"It encourages seeding," he said.

More than 100,000 square feet of turf and a million pounds of sand will be used to finish the field. All the grass comes from Georgia and Alabama and Huppmann and Holland made the trip to south Georgia this week for the sod.

"Once the turf is cut, it's yours," Huppmann said.

By midday Thursday, Bobcats continued to roll out more grass, row by row, from the infield to the warning track 20-feet from the wall. With every row, the construction site looked more like a baseball diamond.

"These guys have done a super job," Huppmann said.