In an attempt to improve the playing surface in the Rogers Centre before natural grass is installed in 2018, the Blue Jays are refurbishing the current AstroTurf by replacing the infill layer in order to soften the turf. Infill is basically artificial soil, giving the turf a bounce, assisting with drainage, and supporting the vertical plastic blades. The process is expected to be complete by the time the club returns for their Friday, April 4 home opener against the Yankees. Although I noted rumours of a new turf arriving this year, the current plan is to have the Blue Jays play on the refurbished field for the 2014 season only, as a brand-new artificial surface will be purchased installed for use in the 2015, 2016, and 2017 seasons.
As first reported by BlueJayHunter.com, we can now confirm that Rogers Centre groundskeepers have been working on making improvements to the current AstroTurf GameDay Grass 3D turf this offseason. That turf is composed of five principal layers—as shown on the diagram on the AstroTurf website—a base layer, several backing layers, the infill layer, a "RootZone" layer which keeps the infill from splashing up, and the polyethylene "blades" layer.
The original infill layer was composed of a mixture of sand and finely-grounded rubber, which is now in the process of being removed in favour of a new infill which will either be pure or a very high concentration of rubber in order to soften the feel of the field.
Bluebird Banter was able to discuss the project details in a telephone interview with Stephen Brooks, the Blue Jays’ senior vice president, business operations.
"We are doing a bunch of things now as we speak; which is why you saw the field the way it was on the night of the State of the Franchise," Brooks explained to me, "we’ve been replacing all the sand and the rubber that’s in the turf, and sort of an overhaul of this turf."
"So right now what you see is sand and finely-ground rubber mixture. We’re pounding all of that out and the goal would be to replace that with a higher content of rubber—just rubber or a lower sand content if any sand at all. Likely an all-rubber infill."
The Blue Jays won't get much time to try out the turf due to the tight spring training schedule, which leads right into exhibition games in Montreal, before bringing the club back down to Florida immediately to begin the regular season against the Rays. That leaves no time for them—especially infielders who have to deal with bouncing grounders—to acclimatize themselves to the particulars of the renewed surface, but Brooks is less worried about that than I am.
"I don’t know if we’ll get any of our current players to test it, but, the [groundskeepers] have done this for long enough now that they know the drill. Our groundskeeper is very good about knowing how the field should play," Brooks continued, "I don’t know if the field would necessarily play differently; but in terms of the softness of the turf, I think that would be improved. We will certainly, through our groundskeepers, test it out to make sure it doesn’t affect play in any way."
We will all have to wait until the home opener to see the effects of the infill on the way the turf plays and whether Blue Jays fielders can adapt to it to give themselves a real home-field advantage.
Minor Leaguer Photo.
However, this overhauling of the turf will only give the 233,039-square foot AstroTurf an extra season of lifespan, so the club is looking at options at installing an interim turf between 2015 and whenever a natural grass field can be installed. There are two main competitors in the field of artificial playing fields: AstroTurf and FieldTurf. The Rogers Centre switched from FieldTurf—the one which was held in trays—to AstroTurf in 2010 because the latter company signed a three-year licensing deal with Major League Baseball, making AstroTurf the league’s Official Synthetic Turf. I cannot find any mention of an extension of the deal, so it might means the Blue Jays will be free to shop around to find the most suitable turf on the market.
Various sources point the cost of a new turf to be in the ballpark of $2 million, which is just a small fraction of the $250 million Rogers Communications, who own both the Blue Jays and the Rogers Centre, have committed to renovations of the quarter-century old stadium. The current AstroTurf cost the stadium either over $1 million or nothing, depending on the source. The biggest portion of the budget will likely be dedicated to re-engineering the stadium to be able to grow grass.
"We are currently going through a process investigating that, although the logistics for that—things like lighting, humidity levels, airflow, and the engineering of the stadium that would need to be done to address any issues that may arise as we proceed with our investigation," Brooks said, "the goal is 2018 season with the end of the Argos lease at the end of 2017."
What Blue Jays fans can take away from this is that the installation of a real grass field is not just lip-service for fans, as the club is spending time, money, and energy to figure out how it can be done.
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