Now he’s on all fours, nose to the turf, squinting at individual blades of Kentucky bluegrass, looking for flaws.
When you cut the most prominent lawn in Washington (now that football is over and the White House Easter Egg Roll is behind us), you don’t just mow and go. You get down on the ground and seek perfection.
“This is what you want,” says Turnour, 32, the sun casting his hunched shadow across center field as he squints at a green shard cleanly beveled at the tip.
“But not this.” He holds up a second, slightly more jagged tip, the sign of a steel blade beginning to lose its ideal razor’s edge. Too many cuts like that, Turnour knows, and the high-definition green luster of the field will dim by some tiny degree on widescreens all over town.
“We will change those blades this weekend,” he declares, wiping his hands on his khaki shorts as he climbs back on the John Deere, inserting ear buds so that he and Kelly Clarkson can get back to mowing. Behind him, a crew walks by with the detached head of Teddy Roosevelt, one of the park’s Racing Presidents.
There may be no more carefully coiffed patch of grass in the city than the 2.2 acres of lawn within these outfield walls. In a country that spends $40 billion a year on lawn care, this is sodding extreme. It’s a bonsai pasture, 100,000 square feet of landscaping Zen.
And Turnour is the deeply tanned Zen master. The stadium’s head groundskeeper for the past two years, Turnour thinks constantly of the thousands of eyes on his grass each night, not to mention a few highly paid feet.
He considers the field a 10th player, obliged to perform at big league levels every night. The words he fears most are “bad bounce.” When a groundball is muffed during a game, he runs to the umpires’ reviewing room to watch a replay. If a divot or dirt clod played a role, he’s been known to go apologize to the player the next day.
“You cringe a little bit,” Turnour says.
And so he mows the grass himself, pretty much every day during a homestand.
Or maybe mowing isn’t the word so much as grooming. He shaves a few 32nds of an inch from already short blades, sharpens up the lines of an already distinct basket-weave pattern.
“Being out here every day like this gives me a chance to go over the whole field, look for bumps or worn patches,” he says.
Worn patches happen where cleats linger. Where the umpires stand behind first and third base, for example, and where the pitcher’s foot lands in front of the mound.
Turnour points to a barely perceptible flattened area surrounded by sunflower seed shells where the left fielders tend to camp out. They vacuum up the shells each day, but by mid-May or so Turnour and his crew will dig up the bare patch and replace it with grass now growing in one of the two bullpens, which serve as turf nurseries for the main field. The bullpen grass will be replaced with sod from a New Jersey farm.