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Specialist in his field: Mooney vows to weather any story

By Larry Whiteside, Globe Staff, 04/11/00

Opening Day at Fenway Park happens but once a year. Joe Mooney wouldn't have it any other way.Weather permitting, the Red Sox superintendent of grounds and his beleaguered crew will put the finishing touches on Fenway Park for today's opener, after a winter of tender caring for a field that players and fans long have taken for granted as among the best in the American League. Mooney has been at this for 40 years, the first 10 with the Washington Senators and the last 30 for Boston.

Moments after the end of the baseball season in October, Mooney goes to work preserving the Fenway grounds, which have been in use since 1912. Given the winters in New England, it is never easy. There is new grass to fill old spots. New drains to replace ancient ones. Winter storms have the potential create havoc without notice; it's Mooney's job to keep the field braced for that.

Actually, Mooney had the field in midseason shape yesterday, the day before the scheduled opener. At 1:05 p.m. yesterday, the temperature was in the 50s, and the green grass under the sun made it feel like June.

In the last 25 years, the Fenway opener has been postponed only three times, but the early forecast called for rain and even snow for two days. Mooney and his crew aren't listening. Their job is to get the field ready for play, somehow, some way.

"You know my motto," said Mooney. "Get the first one in, and the season gets easy."

Of course, Mooney won't be surprised if there eventually are complaints about soft infield spots and slippery outfield areas. But for Opening Day, everything is perfect.

"We had a good winter," he said. "It was warm. We kept the tarp on the infield. The first week of March we caught it when it was dry and we took it off. We've watered it 10-12 times. Everything else has been going good.

"The weather helped out tremendously. We got a few cold nights here and there, but it never meant nothing. All the guys keep pitching in. We got ahead of it a little bit. But now you don't know what the weather is going to do. So you just have to go at it."

Those who have seen Mooney work on the field understand what this means. Nature can be a challenge. Mooney is a hands-on executive, and woe be to any worker who can't match his intensity.

"You just have to go with the weather here," he said. "It's tough. Each spring you never know what's going to happen. But we say go ahead and do it. We'd like to wet it a little more than we're doing but we're afraid to take a chance the next couple of days.

"The field took a Saturday night rain very good. We came in and took the water off the tarp. We didn't want to move the tarp because of the winds and everything else. All we had this morning was a little ice and it came off pretty good. Now we have to see what happens."

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