Large chunks of missing grass are scattered across Harry & David Field. The situation, caused by Poa annua, poses no safety concerns, says Gary Miller, president of the Medford Youth Baseball Society. - Jamie Lusch

Sore sight for fresh eyes

In the years since Harry & David Field was developed following the demolition of Miles Field, the playing surface has been a sight to behold and routinely considered one of the best ballparks in the state by those passing through Medford.

For those who ventured out to the ballpark Wednesday for the scheduled Southern Oregon Hybrid baseball opener between South Medford and visiting Roseburg, however, Harry & David Field was still quite a sight — but for all the wrong reasons.

Bare patches about two inches deep dotted the natural grass landscape of the ballpark, with cutouts throughout the infield and outfield and along the perimeter edges of the playing field. It didn't take long before the questions started flowing from onlookers, with the most repeated one simply being, "What happened?"

The basic answer is that Harry & David Field has been besieged by an infestation of Poa annua, a pesky grassy weed — also called Annual Bluegrass — common among highly maintained sports fields and golf courses.

"We made the decision in the fall that we were going to try to eradicate it or at least get it under control because you can see it was just taking the field over," said Gary Miller, president of the Medford Youth Baseball Society that handles all operations at H&D.

What ensued was a lengthy process that involved spraying the affected areas with Roundup, aerating the areas and then overseeding it before adding a top dressing of sand and dragging it to prepare for seed germination. Miller said that routine was replayed in February in hopes of having everything taken care of prior to the spring baseball season, but that obviously didn't happen thanks to the recent streak of cool, wet temperatures.

"We went into this with our eyes open," said Miller. "We were hoping that it would be seeded but it's not."

"The wet hasn't been as big of an issue," he added, "it's just been so cold the grass hasn't germinated like we'd hoped, although you can see it's starting to come back now and you can see all the seed. It's really a two-year program that we're trying to manage the field as far as the grass goes. It's just a maintenance plan that we have."

Miller said he realized how startling of a sight such measures would create but he said there really wasn't a better alternative given how difficult it is to control Poa.

"We knew that going into it," he said of the swiss-cheese impression on the field left by killing the grassy weeds, "but we just thought for the long-term benefit of the field and the community, that we had to take that drastic of a step."

"We had a lot of input on it," added Miller. "The ideal situation with Poa is that you would use a pre-emergent twice a year and that's what we'll start to do to control it. Poa is almost impossible to eradicate but that was the step that we had to take because we've got a controlled environment here that we want to protect."

Miller said he hopes application of a pre-emergent herbicide this fall and again in the spring, along with the measures already undertaken and continued overseeding, will make things right again at Harry & David Field.

"And hopefully we'll never do this again," he quickly added.

Such hope was maintained by those on hand like former Medford Mustangs manager Sandee Kensinger as well as the head coaches at South and Roseburg, Ray Smith and Troy Thompson, respectively.

"It actually plays better than it looks but we definitely expect a little bit more," said Smith.

Part expectation and part hope had Smith and Thompson mulling over the ability to get their game in on Wednesday before ultimately pulling the plug due to unplayable conditions that had nothing to do with the Poa. Rains had made the conditions unsafe on the infield dirt and neither coach wanted their season opener to be a season-ender for any of the players.

"We had talked about that even before the game and came to the agreement that hopefully it would dry out and firm up and be playable," said Smith, "but in the best interest of our players on both teams, it just didn't get to that point. It's close but it's just not there."

Of particular concern were sloppy areas around second base that left little traction and created too many potential issues for the players.

"It's not a safe situation to put any kids on," said Thompson. "It's only the first game of the season, though, and we still have time. It stinks because everyone's excited and we want to go, go, go and it's been frustrating up to this point but we had to look at the real pros and cons here."

Both teams will try to play at Harry & David again today, weather and playing surface permitting. If the game cannot be played, the next available date likely would be April 2 since both teams have spring break commitments. The Panthers were previously scheduled to play North Eugene today.

"The unfortunate thing is for us, it's kind of a double-whammy," said Smith. "We don't get to play a great team like Roseburg and then we lose the opportunity to play North Eugene (today) because if we do have decent weather then we'll play Roseburg here. Hopefully North Eugene will have an opening in their schedule to fit us in later."

As for safety concerns involving the dead patches in the grass, Miller said there are none.

"It's not like maybe you would have a lip like on the infield, it's soft so it's not creating bad hops or anything like that," added Miller. "When the kids are running in the outfield they push the grass down, there's no step down or they're not going to trip or that type of thing on it."

Warmer weather will hopefully allow the empty areas in the grass to fill in, although forecasting such a process is an inexact science. While the outlook will gradually improve throughout the spring season, it's more likely that things won't be back to normal at Harry & David Field for another year.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488,, or

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