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Blades of glory

At Fenway, the grass isn't just greener. Its design is ever-changing.

David Mellor has Red Sox Nation guessing.

Take Eliza Gregory, a waitress in the State Street Pavilion behind home plate at Fenway Park, who simply loved the gigantic, stylized letter "B" that materialized in the grass under center fielder Coco Crisp's cleats one night this summer.

Asked how she thought Mellor, Fenway's director of grounds, and his crew coaxed a million lawn blades to form a letter even the Hood blimp could see, Gregory shook her head and answered: "I thought maybe there was a little man who came out at night who trimmed it."

Bleacher mainstay Anne Quinn, who's been coming to Fenway since 1964, couldn't imagine how Mellor conjured a pair of 80-foot-long grass socks stretching across the infield for the 2004 playoffs. (Though Quinn does own Mellor's book on lawn care, "Picture Perfect.")

Other fans at Fenway earlier this month swore that Mellor must use computers to create his multihued plaid patterns; that it must have taken half a day to create Tony Conigliaro's number "25" in right field; and that only a landscape architect could design an array of bull's-eyes in the outfield grass as big as traffic circles.

"You're like, is there some artist trying to figure this out from up above? 'OK, now, move the lawn mower this way,' " said Kevin White, of Somersworth, N.H., sitting with his son, David, in the Green Monster seats. "You think of a landscaper - 'I cut the lawn, I make it green.' Never, 'I cut pictures in the grass.' "

How do Mellor and his staff do it? It's not as hard as people imagine, the groundskeeper says.

Grass blades that are bent away from your vantage point (for our purposes, we'll say away from home plate) catch more light and thus appear lighter in color. Grass blades that are bent toward your vantage point don't catch as much light and thus appear darker in color. Bend some of the grass one way and some of the grass another and you've created a pattern. That's it.

While Mellor and his staff mow the field every game day, cutting isn't how they work their magic. Instead, they literally roll out each new design, using either hand-pushed rollers (some weighing 75 pounds) or large, metal rollers affixed to their riding mowers that flatten the grass as they drive over it.

Even something as simple as a garden hose, given sufficient pressure and the right nozzle, can be used to bend grass into an eye-catching design, Mellor says.

"I've seen people do smile faces, birthday cakes. I've had kids on my crew who used a hose and a squeegee to write 'class of 2007' on their grass. I think anything is possible, other than the Yankee logo," he said, cracking a smile.

"It's all about having fun, not being afraid to make a mistake, knowing that if you make a crooked line it's very easy to fix, or that can just be part of your artistic creativity. Maybe you want a wiggly line in that pattern."

Of course, making wiggly lines in the grass is one thing. Making wiggly lines in the grass that are so innovative they're photographed for an internationally touring art exhibition is another. So is making an immaculate American flag, to scale, in Fenway's grass for the entire nation to see when baseball resumed play the week after the Sept. 11 attacks.

That Mellor is a maestro at his craft is obvious to anyone who sees the field, either in person or on television. But he was also a pioneer in lawn design, creating one of the first truly intricate plaids ever seen on a baseball field, a veritable Scottish kilt of grass, while with the Milwaukee Brewers in 1993.

"Certainly groundskeepers had tried different things, but they'd never taken it to the level David had," said Roger Bossard, the Chicago White Sox's head groundskeeper for 41 years. "Obviously everyone is doing it now. But David was, once again, the father, the innovator, of these patterns."

Mellor finds inspiration everywhere. An Argyle sweater Mellor had at home became the template for a centerfield swath this July; the "B" in centerfield came straight off a Red Sox cap; his daughter, Cachy, was in second grade when she handed Mellor a crayon drawing of the wiggly lawn pattern that was eventually photographed for the art exhibition, "The American Home Lawn: Surfaces of Everyday Life."

"I look at that, and see a mowing pattern," Mellor said, sitting in his office, pointing to the lattice top of a can of odor eater.

Using both high- and not-so-high-tech equipment - a linoleum floor roller from Home Depot is one of his most prized tools - Mellor and his crackerjack crew can create a field pattern in as little as 45 minutes. More intricate ones take two or three hours.

Though Mellor has a computer, he doesn't use it to map out designs: they're mostly done ad hoc, scribbled on a piece of paper, or in the sand of Fenway's warning track. That's not to say he and his staff don't put a great deal of care into each design, though.

"When they were doing the 'B,' it was amazing the planning that went into it," said Amy Timmerman, executive producer of the Spanish Beisbol Network, with a booth high up in the press box. "They had little flags and ropes that they tied off. . . . We were here, and it took them all day."

Fenway's grass has seen a new pattern before every home stand since Mellor joined the Red Sox in 2001. For a long series of home games, he might roll in a second pattern, or tweak the original one with a few extra plaid lines here or a diamond pattern there. Aside from eye appeal, it's healthier for the turf to alter its direction every 10 to 14 days, Mellor says.

Interestingly, the people who appreciate his patterns the least - aside from that big pair of infield socks in '04, which no one could miss - are the ones closest to them: the players. Emerging from the dugout for batting practice at a recent home stand, one after another said they hardly notice the grass, mainly because they're standing on it and don't have the perspective of fans up in the stands.

"It's whenever you see it on TV - that's when you see what they do with it out there," said pitcher Clay Buchholz.

One player who does notice is Crisp, who said ground balls to his position can bounce haphazardly on various stripes in the turf. "I like the one he has now because it makes it easy to play center field. It's simple. The cut's straight up the center," he said early this month. "It might not be as beautiful, but it's more productive for a defensive player not to have all the beauty out there."

For most, though, Mellor's lawn patterns are something to smile about, snap a picture of (Gregory, the waitress, has a photo of the grass "B" as her cellphone background), or emulate at home. Mellor says he gets e-mails from fans all the time with photos of their homemade lawn art, or suggestions of what he could do with Fenway's grass.

"I had an e-mail from someone on the last home stand. 'Hey, how about doing corporate logos on the field? You have signs all over the park already,' " he said.

Don't worry - that won't be happening. Nor will you probably ever see a really eclectic pattern, or wiggly lines drawn by a child.

The wild bull's-eyes that appeared this summer? They were created only to draw attention away from grass damaged by the stage of July's concert by the Police, Mellor says.

"I don't know how to explain it. There are certain patterns I would not do out of respect for Fenway," he said.

But the list of what he has done is anything but limited. A jack-o'-lantern for Halloween, a prostate-cancer awareness ribbon; Bruce Springsteen's name; a rippling, three-dimensional flag for Flag Day; and, for the team's centennial anniversary, a giant number 100 in centerfield with baseballs for the zeros and a bat for the 1.

"The words Boston Red Sox spelled out would be wonderful. Or Red Sox Nation. Just something to get us going," said fan Gerri Stein Gisser when asked what she'd like to see in the grass.

"They could do something for opening day for the Patriots, like 'Go Patriots.' It would be kind of an interesting crossover," said Kevin Seifert of Concord, a longtime season ticket holder. "Or flowers on Mother's Day."

What would Gregory have Mellor create?

"Maybe a Boston skyline. That would be very intricate," she said. "Oh, you know what I'd like? The ducklings, like in 'Make Way for the Ducklings.' They could be [waddling] across center field."

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