Paul Zwaska has earned his stripes.
As head groundskeeper for the Baltimore Orioles, he has the wherewithal to put eye-catching striped patterns on the field at Camden Yards.
This turf teasing is all the rage at major league baseball parks around the country, and virtually every day fans ask him: Can I do this at home?
''Yes,'' Zwaska replies, tongue-in-cheek. All they need is a few basics: the right mix of bluegrass and perennial ryegrass varieties, an underground drainage system, a free-draining soil mix of sand and peat, an installed irrigation system, regular applications of fertilizer and fungicide, and a commercial-grade mower with reel blades rollers fore and aft.
The machine costs $7,000 and cuts the infield at 1 1/8 inch, a length so stressfully short that it would make the lawn experts at any agricultural extension office blanch.
''We put a lot more pressure on that turf,'' Zwaska says.
Long a mark of a classic lawn in Britain, striping is now taking off in America. You might need all that stuff if your lawn stripes are on national television, but one maker of ride-on lawn mowers -- Simplicity Manufacturing Inc. of Port Washington, Wis. -- says its machines bring authentic ballpark-style striping to the suburban greensward.
The key: a full-length roller behind the mowing deck, which creates a nap that reflects light. Turf rolled away from the observer looks lighter; turf rolled toward you looks darker.
The effect works better on cool-season grasses (fescues, ryes and bluegrass) than on warm-season ones (zoysia, Bermuda grass), especially in the spring when the turf is lush and green. Some stripe addicts even mist the lawn after mowing to accentuate the stripes. The pattern lasts for about a week.
Simplicity's machines have the rollers as part of a floating mower deck design that prevents turf scalping, and have had them for years, acknowledges spokesman Troy Blewett. But the striping attribute is catching hold, he claims, because of the phenomenon at ballparks and a ''growing trend for people to spend time in their yards.''
The models are sold through dealers and cost from approximately $2,000 for a basic riding mower to $12,000 for a large garden tractor with special attachments. (For a list, go online at www.simplicitymfg.com).
The company forecasts sales to increase from $117 million in 1999 to $125 million this year, according to Blewett, with sales concentrated in the Northeast and Midwest.
Steve McCarthy, a spokesman for another major manufacturer, Toro, says most machines will put a grain on turf. ''I used to work for a landscape company, and we used to do diagonal striping for the homeowner to make it look cool.''
Still, Simplicity believes its rollers give it the edge and has enlisted the endorsement of Dave Mellor, a groundskeeper for the Milwaukee Brewers, known in the groundskeeping fraternity for complex and dizzying stripe designs.
Mellor has put out a brochure and video for prospective customers of Simplicity showing how to mow seven patterns, from simple checkerboard to a plaid design. Much of the work involves maneuvering around the edges of the lawn and going over light stripes to clean them up.
Two disjointed ideas spring to mind in seeing Mellor on his red lawn tractor: This will never catch on because people buy lawn tractors to minimize the lawn cutting chore; they won't fuss with striping. The other one is that this is an opportunity for the ordinary Joe to become an artist, using a mower as a brush.
The Orioles' Zwaska says Mellor's zeal might be an effort to divert the fans' attention from the Brewers' game.
''What else have you got to do in Milwaukee?'' he says.
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