Woven into the fabric of Dodger Stadium's beauty is its plant life: the rolling hills of Elysian Park, the meticulously manicured field and the thousands of decorative plants found outside the stadium’s gates. Those are managed by one man, landscape manager and certified arborist Chaz Perea.
Perea is 29 years old, he’s worked for the Dodgers since 2009, and at any given time about 10 people are working under him. He graduated from the horticultural studies program at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, but he grew up in Arizona. He’s diplomatic when you ask him what team he roots for — he won't name his favorite team, but says, laughing "I support the Dodgers. I love the hand that feeds me. I’m very happy to be here."
Before joining the Dodgers organization, Perea worked at a country club in Whittier. The change of scenery couldn't be more different for him. "There’s not a day I don’t drive in here and [think], 'Are you kidding me?'" he says. "It’s fabulous, it’s every day, and it’s kind of hard to wrap your head around."
It’s before sunrise when I go out to meet Chaz. Already, his team is at work — overhauling the landscaping near the stadium’s Sunset Gate. Opening day is a week and a half away. We start our tour of Dodger Stadium in Perea's golf cart.
First on the agenda: blue Mediterranean fan palms — of course they’re blue. A truckload just arrived and his team dug up a fresh new planter in the middle of the stadium parking lot. Where last season there was asphalt, 2015 will see an island of flora that’s lush, pretty and — most importantly — drought-tolerant.
"This guy’s gonna love the heat," he says of the fan palm as we drive over. "It’s gonna reflect sun really well. He’s gonna have a slow to moderate growth. It’s gonna use a fraction of the water that most plants would need."
Perea says plants like these can go with as little as 12 minutes of watering each week — that’s important for one of the biggest stadiums in California.
After inspecting the fan palms — which look great, by the way — we move on. We visit the landscape management workshop. Then behind it, the garden where they keep extra plants ready to go. Every now and then fans will trample the landscaping, and Perea has a fresh batch ready to replace them in the event that happens.
We finish our interview outside the top deck at the stadium — just as the sun starts rising over downtown Los Angeles. I ask him about the future — the drought isn’t letting up any time soon, and they can’t really let the grass on the field at Dodger Stadium go brown.
Perea says it's no longer simply a matter of finding drought-tolerant plants, but ones that can survive on reclaimed water. "That’s where all this exterior irrigation is gonna be pushed in the coming years, for all of us," he says. "Reclaimed water is tricky — in the sense that it introduces a handful of salts into your soil that more or less don’t get along with your plants so much."
It’s the same story for Dodger fans. Many are digging up their lawns or letting them go brown. Or they live in apartments with no green at all. Chaz Perea and his team give fans an escape from all that — what better reason to get up before dawn?