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 Fields of Green. Story by Wright Thompson.

 

The students learn well. Jerad Minnick is a groundskeeper with the Kansas City Royals. Neal Pate works for the Cleveland Browns; Jeff Salmond for Northwestern University. Some of the people caring for those beautiful fields you see on television started at Fresenburg's research center. The things he taught continue to help them, long after the class is over.

"Every single day," Minnick says, "more so than any other professor I had, the things we got in his classes were essential in everyday life."

As he was talking, Minnick counted the folders on his desk still left over from Fresenburg's classes: one, two, three, four, five. When he needs to top dress the infield at Kauffman Stadium with sand, he goes to his notes.

Teaching isn't Fresenburg's only job. He and his students test grass in four-foot-by-six-foot plots for quality, density, color and stress tolerance. They use a special tool, a torque wrench with cleats on it, to make sure the grass gives way, reducing athletes' risk of injury. Now, with FieldTurf so popular, they do cost research, gathering data to make their case.

Like many in the field, they are examining different ways of breeding grass, trying to give a scientific hand to nature. There are products out there, like a seeded Bermuda named "Riviera," that are designed to be fast growing and quick healing. The natural grass camp isn't sitting on their hands.

"If Mother Nature could figure out a way to make natural grass tougher," Fresenburg says, "there wouldn't be synthetic turf right now." He then pokes holes in the argument that synthetic is always cheaper. "You can't blame the synthetic industry because they've done an outstanding job of marketing," he says. "The shortcoming on our end is we haven't marketed ourselves enough on natural grass."

As he talks, there is passion in his eyes. It's not just because he's fighting for the grass he's loved since he was a boy. Every time a synthetic field replaces a natural one, a potential job is taken from one of his students.

Sometimes, it seems like no one is listening. Even his own school, home to one of America's leading natural grass research centers, switched to FieldTurf. Fresenburg did his best to change the opinion of the Athletic Department. It didn't work. "Coach Pinkel had his mind made up," he says. "He wanted a synthetic field because he wanted to practice more in the stadium."

Fresenburg was disappointed, but accepted the reasons for Pinkel's decision. But he hasn't given up. Underneath Faurot Field, hidden from view and waiting patiently until it's needed again, is the natural grass drainage and irrigation system. Is it possible that Pinkel could change his mind and go back to grass? Fresenburg won't speculate. Pinkel declined to comment.

All Fresenburg can do is continue doing the research, spreading the word and hoping that sports people will come to discover the limitations of even the best of the new artificial turf systems. "Is it gonna be a fad that's short lived?" he asks. "Who knows?"

       
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Published by the Office of Research.

©2006 Curators of the University of Missouri. Click here to contact the editor.