A lot has changed since the last time Denver hosted Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game in 1998, not the least of which is the Midsummer Classic itself. The teams have ballooned to 32 players each and, for a while, they even competed for home-field advantage in the World Series. The Futures Game, which sees teams of prospects from each league face-off, was added in 1999; the celebrity softball game is actually televised; the Home Run Derby is almost as big a draw as the main event; and for the first time, the MLB draft will be part of the festivities. But one thing has remained the same: Mark Razum, the Rockies’ head groundskeeper. Razum joined the team in 1994, helped open Coors Field in 1995, and was responsible for the iconic star design of the infield and outfield grass during ’98’s interleague showdown.
“There’s just a lot more events and a lot more stuff that has to come on and off the field these days,” he says. “Back then, we were able to pull it off with our regular 13-man grounds crew. Now the MLB has asked us to nearly double our size.” To get a better sense of how the All-Star Game has evolved—and how it affects its host ballpark—we chatted with Razum for an on-the-ground perspective of what’s new and what’s not.
5280: You’ve been with the Rockies almost since the beginning. What kinds of challenges does maintaining a field in the Mile High City present?
Razum: Snow removal is always a challenge in April and May—this year we had two significant storms while the team was in town—and then things dry out in June and July. Having moisture in the soil is a key component of a good field, so we have to watch our irrigation cycles and things like that a little closer than some others. But Denver actually has a great climate for growing grass. The dryness means we don’t really get the disease problems of more humid places. I just like it here, and I’ve just gotten used to it over the years. If somebody else came in, they might hate it.
You’re still working out the design of this year’s field, but the star pattern in the infield and outfield grass was one of the iconic images of Denver’s previous All-Star Game. How did it come about?
[Laughs] Well, back then we had a lot more time to prepare since we knew we were going to get the game a lot earlier. I just kind of woke up one morning and was like, “Let’s start with a star and work it out from there.” I’d spent the previous year’s Home Run Derby watching how the cameras followed the flight of the ball, and I thought it would be cool to have that pattern in the outfield grass every hit. We drew it up after the end of the 1997 season and started experimenting with it when no one was in the stands.
How do you make the patterns?
We use a reel mower that acts like scissors and clips the grass verses a rotary mower where it spins and kind of shreds it. The rollers that set the cut height also push over the grass, and that’s what gives you the light-dark-light-dark striping. [Light stripes are areas mowed away from the viewer and dark stripes are those mowed toward the viewer.] I’ve always felt like Coors Field is a more traditional stadium, so we’ve gone after that more traditional cut. For others, I think the feeling is that the grass is kind of lying there, and you can create pretty much anything you want on it to a certain degree, so why not have some fun with it?
Speaking of which, grass designs seem to be more complicated than ever. Have the techniques changed much since ’98?
Everything back then was with a mower. Now guys are using water hoses, brooms, little handheld tile rollers—anything to manipulate the grass to get the shade and shape they’re looking for. There’s even a company called New Ground Technology. They’ve developed this machine that puts in really sophisticated patterns [using air pressure to precisely bend the grass]. Last month, it was Willie Mays’ 90th birthday, and they made a portrait of him in the outfield grass in San Francisco.
How long does it take to make an All-Star-worthy design?
Coming out of winter when the field hasn’t been mowed in months and months, it takes us about three days to get it looking good. The All-Star Game? That’s going to take a lot longer because there are a lot more shapes and lettering.
And then you have to transform it all back again?
We played the Giants a couple days after the last All-Star Game. I got a call from my good friend Trevor Vance in Kansas City. He was like, “I don’t know if I was more impressed with how the field looked for the All-Star Game or more impressed afterwards.” He thought he would still see some remnants. Instead, we were able to completely wash out the grass pattern and the logos so that it looked like a normal field for the next home game. That’s the goal.
What’s the biggest change from 1998?
There’s just more events. We never had a Futures Game. The Home Run Derby is way bigger now—they bring down a stage for the national anthem, and they have speakers and pyrotechnics on the infield. We have to convert the field to softball-size including a new home run fence. A lot of it is quick turn, so we have to have crews ready to go to move that stuff or set up that stuff.
That’s a lot of work. When you found out Denver was the replacement host for this year’s game, were you like, “Oh, no”?
We were going to get it within the next few years anyway, and our front office staff had put in a lot of legwork to prepare. Having that done in advance helped out, but yeah, at first it was kind of like, “Oh, no.” Then you get excited for it. Whether we had it now or three years from now, I’m just fortunate to be a part of it.
Editor’s note: This interview was edited for length and clarity.