PITTSBURGH (AP) — This is not a story about dirt.
It’s actually a story about an old asphalt plant, a set of computers older than the average baseball player and a man who revolutionized an industry he didn’t know existed.
OK, and it is about dirt.
But this dirt is special: It starts under the ground in western Pennsylvania and ends under the cleats of the best baseball players in the world.
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“Most people have no idea that the infield mix for Major League Baseball, from San Diego to Boston, comes from Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania,” said Grant McKnight, president and founder of DuraEdge.
DuraEdge, which has administrative offices in Grove City, counts 21 of MLB’s 30 stadiums among its clients, including iconic ballparks such as PNC Park, AT&T Park and Wrigley Field.
Matt Brown, the Pirates’ director of field operations, said DuraEdge has “revolutionized” the infield skin industry, even saving Pirates games that would have been postponed or delayed.
“When people see a DuraEdge infield, they are impressed with it and they want it in their field,” Brown said. “I think that speaks volumes of just how far we’ve come in just a 10-year stretch with DuraEdge.”
McKnight grew up in Slippery Rock, swam for Bucknell University and quit baseball at the age of 11. After his family’s coal business shuttered, McKnight worked for his father’s new construction-materials company; in 2000, while still working for his father’s company, he opened his own business, producing sand and soil mixes for golf courses.
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While working on a project at Slippery Rock University’s new baseball stadium, McKnight talked to the athletic director about putting in the infield. The athletic director asked about the other places where McKnight had built infield surfaces.
“Nowhere,” McKnight responded. “This would be the first place.”
The athletic director was hesitant, but McKnight was undeterred. Still, it was new territory for baseball and softball. Unlike the golf industry, which had plentiful resources on turf management, McKnight couldn’t find anything from MLB on infield skins. So he had to experiment, making a test plot and dropping it off at the ballpark.
“They put it in,” McKnight said, “and the rest is history.”