Q&A: With three games in six days, what's John Torres' plan to keep PPL Park world class?

Union groundskeeper tell us how he keeps PPL Park looking good

John Torres images

Photo Credit: 
Greg Carroccio

The month of June is going to be a wild one.

With upcoming international friendlies, club friendlies and MLS play all taking place at PPL Park, keeping the field looking world class can at times be a tall order.

However, head groundskeeper John Torres revels in the challenge of keeping the turf in pristine condition on game days.

Torres, 31, who joined the Union in 2011, was engrained in the sport of soccer growing up in a Mexican household. Earning his degree in turf management at Ohio State University, Torres worked at Columbus Crew stadium and went overseas for a yearlong internship to work at Emirates Stadium, the home of English Premier League power and current English FA Cup champions, Arsenal.

Following a West Coast excursion, the Union returns to PPL Park to host Vancouver on Saturday, June 7 (7 p.m., purchase tickets) in one last MLS match before the break for the upcoming FIFA World Cup. However, leading up to that match are a pair of international friendlies in Greece-Nigeria on June 2 (8 p.m., purchase tickets), followed by Costa Rica-Ireland on Friday, June 6 (purchase tickets).

Three games in six days.

Earlier this week, philadelphiaunion.com caught up with Torres and asked what he and his crew do to combat the wear and tear on the pitch, what type of grass sustains the field the best, and the experience that led him to a job in which he’ll be the first to tell you there are no regrets.

philadelphiaunion.com: John, first off can you talk about what it takes initially to make sure that this pitch is the best in can be for game day?

John Torres: That’s a hell of a question there. I think basically just first off is time management. I have to know what events are going on the field as far as [daily Union] training, and as far as any kind of [other] events. As long as I know what’s going on the field then I can prepare myself for what we need to do. Cultural practices for turf management is a big key, so aerating, seeding, watering, fertilizing, all that. It’s basically all the simple stuff in turf management that I just need to find the right time to pull the triggers on. It’s all about finding the windows to get everything that to me is the biggest thing.

PU.com: Three soccer matches on the field in a week span, coming off a weekend of collegiate rugby sevens. Wow. Is there a preparatory plan on keeping the field strong for all three games? And are there stressors with that many matches in such a short time?

JT: Yeah, well that’s all happening right now; preparations for that is well underway. I need to try to get the field as strong as possible, as dense as possible. So that’s fertilizing, that’s throwing down additional seed, making sure that all the wear and tear areas are well maintained which is mainly the goal mouths down the middle of the field. Actually a lot of my focus is actually down the middle of the field, so that’s constant seeding and then just keeping up with our normal fertility program. This is go time for me. To be honest, during that week there is really not too much I can do other then try to keep it clean and keep it mowed.  It’s actually these next two weeks is when I’m preparing for that wild week in June.

PU.com: What type of grass do you prefer to use here and what are the benefits for keeping the pitch lush and strong?

JT: Well, there’s a toss-up right now between, cool season grass, which is Kentucky bluegrass and ryegrass, versus what we’ve traditionally used – Bermuda grass. Right now we have just about 100 percent perennial ryegrass. It’s these months, May and June, are the best times where ryegrass really loves it. Temperatures are relatively cool at night, warm during the day, so this grass loves it and (laughs) makes my job a whole lot easier. So right now it’s not too hard maintaining this grass. It’s the summer months late July and August that I really struggle with ryegrass.

PU.com: PPL Park has hosted a variety of events in its short history. Are there any events that come here that put you harder to work than others to maintain a great looking field?

JT: I think a lot of people have misperceptions on, say, the collegiate rugby tournament  that we have or even football. Those matches, those games, they don’t really do too much damage. It’s really the sports like lacrosse and soccer that are mainly focused down the middle of the field that give the most wear and tear. So, really, those matches are the easiest to plan for because I know where the wear is going to be. It’s going to be down the middle and then in the goal mouths. So, it’s really these stretches of soccer games that are pretty hard to maintain but the challenge of using various fertilizers, seeing which type of grass works best and seeing the finished product is the most exciting part of it for me.

PU.com: What made you realize at an early age that this is what you wanted to do with your life?

JT: I grew up my whole life following soccer. With a Mexican background, my family was, you know, always a fan of the sport, so I grew up watching soccer. I grew up playing it throughout high school, little bit of college, so I had a love for the sport. I found out once I got in to school, once I found out that I could actually be a turf manager in soccer that was a no-brainer for me. So I went to school at Ohio State University, was able to work at the Columbus Crew stadium, had an internship overseas at Arsenal, which was a great experience. Kind of all that experience led me to this position and I have no regrets and it’s been a pleasure working on this field and working here at PPL Park.

Want to see all the events Torres has to get PPL Park ready for? Visit philadelphiaunion.com/ppl-park for a list of events and ticket information

Contact Union digital editor Kerith Gabriel at kgabriel@philadelphiaunion.com