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LI sod on deck for Yankees, Mets openers

Frank Beyrodt, right, and his cousin, Rick DeLea,

Frank Beyrodt, right, and his cousin, Rick DeLea, of DeLea Sod, walk across the grass at DeLea farm in Calverton. The replacement sod for Yankee Stadium, Citi Field and the Long Island Ducks stadium, Bethpage Ballpark, comes from their farm. (March 26, 2013) Credit: James Carbone

Before David Wright can charge the dribbler down the line or CC Sabathia can take the mound for the first pitch, they need solid footing.

That's where eastern Long Island, with its thousands of acres of sod farms, enters the field.

Eastern Long Island grows grass used at both Citi Field and Yankee Stadium, and Long Island Ducks stadium, as well as housing tracts, golf courses and public parks.

Monday, the home openers for both the Mets and the Yankees, will feature the grass from some of its sod farmers -- grown on Long Island, cut into strips and hauled on trucks to the stadiums.

"It's like the frame in the picture," said Frank Beyrodt Jr., part of the third-generation of DeLea Sod Farms. "You have a billion-dollar stadium. What's everyone looking at? The grass."

The original grass laid at Yankee Stadium and Citi Field was grown elsewhere. But much of the replacement grass comes from here, Beyrodt said.

Sod has been a major crop for at least 60 years, said Joe Gergela, executive director of the Long Island Farm Bureau. He said there are about 5,000 acres of sod on Long Island.

After World War II, some entrepreneurs, like the DeLeas and the DeLalios, another major sod farm family with farms throughout Long Island, saw the wave of growth coming.

"It was the market demand," Gergela said. Suburban home developments demanded the picturesque yards. Those families wanted the soccer fields, county parks and golf courses.

The sod business emerged.

But like many farms on Long Island, some sod businesses succumbed to development pressures. And in the past five years, acres of sod farms have gone down with the slumping economy, sluggish housing market and governments spending less on parks, Gergela said.

But in parts of eastern Long Island, the grass still grows in wide fields. In Calverton, on a wintry spring day last week, Beyrodt and Rick DeLea, another third-generation farmer with DeLea Sod Farms, motioned to the grass around them.

From a field next to the old Grumman facility, DeLea farms this winter took up about an acre and a half of grass and shipped it to the Bronx for the new centerfield.

But this year has made for slow going. A tour less than a week before opening day showed a sod farm field more the brown of late winter than emerald green of spring.

"Everyone's struggling to get color," he said. A Yankee groundskeeping crew called him to discuss tips on getting greener grass. "They're trying everything -- blankets, other tricks . . ."

What other tricks?

"Just call them the tricks," he said, to bring out the green early, in time for opening day.

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