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Yankees' field loses its green luster

Published Sep. 29, 2005

Legends Field, where the New York Yankees play each spring, looks unblemished to the untrained eye.

Modeled after Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, N.Y., the stadium rises gracefully above N Dale Mabry Highway with reflecting pools and _ until recently _ beautiful green grass.

But under the grass, team owner George Steinbrenner and his staff suspect, something is wrong.

About a month ago, after spraying the field with weed killer, officials looked out on the playing field to see that their green grass had big brown patches.

Citing an "immediate safety problem," the team resodded the field and dashed off a letter to stadium contractors and to the Tampa Sports Authority, which oversaw construction of the $30-million publicly financed facility.

The letter from team lawyer Neal Sivyer warned that the field might need expensive work and suggested that each party investigate the problem immediately.

The team also asked the sports authority to pay half the $5,900 cost for laboratory tests on the soil, sports authority executive director Henry Saavedra said.

Saavedra said the agency may pay the Yankees "as a measure of good neighbor policy," although no decision has been made.

Saavedra said the Yankees have not asked the sports authority to pay to rebuild the field. The team could demand that contractors pay the cost if they improperly installed the soil.

Metrex, the Clearwater contractor that installed the soil, mixed a combination of sand and peat on the top three inches under the Legends Field grass. The company also installed the soil at Raymond James Stadium, a field named best in the league last year by the NFL Players Association.

The subsoil was installed according to plans, said Jim Daisey of Metrex. He pointed out that the grass has prospered for four years. Fertilizer could have caused the problem, he said.

Although he has not seen the field, Dr. Bryan Unruh, the state extension turf-grass specialist, said a bad soil mixture generally does not kill Bermuda grass. Bad weather, overseeding and baseball players are more likely culprits.

Bermuda grass, he said, "will grow on asphalt."