For quite some time, Jays fans had to endure the repulsive features of the Rogers Centre floor. I say floor because it's hard to describe artificial, man-made, coloured carpet as a real baseball field. A description that unseemly would truly tarnish the cherished image of a baseball field.
However, like many of the artificial products in our lives, that turf playing surface has become more and more life like. First, they replaced the turf with a thicker carpet, eliminating the hardness that produced trampoline-like bounces on seemingly routine ground balls. Then they made it even thicker last season to the point where black pebbles jumped up with every bounce on the soft surface. It became a daily story to start last season and, although taking a back-seat during the Jays' resurgence, enlivened during the playoffs thanks to commentator Harold Reynolds.
Don't expect that storyline to go anywhere in this season either. Sure, the turf angle is mostly tired, so beating a dead horse isn't something I'm advocating for here, but with the Jays implementing a dirt infield this year, the sentence, "I wonder what kind of impact the field had on that ball," will be uttered by commentators throughout the season.
That said, there's no denying that the dirt infield will be a benefit on the eyes in the seasons to come. But do the Jays have an obligation to continue with the upgrades, eventually landing on real grass?
The tough answer is no, not really. Not immediately anyways. When you look at things, and even ask some of the players, the turf isn't quite the issue that fans have made it out to be. It may actually be an asset.
"I think it’s one of those things where for us we obviously have the advantage because we play on it half the games of the year," Kevin Pillar said. "[With] the turf the ball obviously bounces a little bit more, it’s a little bit less forgiving. It’s just different. I wouldn’t say it’s easier or harder, it’s just different."
Last season, the Jays recorded 0.51 errors per game when playing at home, recording 0.57 errors while playing away from the Rogers Centre. Additionally, the Jays commanded a 53-28 record at home in comparison to a 40-41 record on the road. While some of that may be attributable to the friendly confines of the Rogers Centre for the Jays' sluggers, there is still some stock in the thought that the turf could play a factor. Just ask Elvis Andrus. The statistics, at least moderately, back up what Pillar is saying.
Obviously the argument from many Jays fans is that it deters future free agents from coming to Toronto.
"It puts a different wear and tear on your body," Pillar says. "Obviously with natural grass you’re able to sink into the ground a little bit more and be more stable whereas turf, it’s a little bit more wobbly and you can only dig in so deep because there’s concrete below it, but it’s just something we get used to doing."
Sure, that argument is valid, but with the winning attitude created by the likes of Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki and even Marcus Stroman, I'd suspect the turf isn't as big of an issue as the possibility of winning a World Series.
"You can definitely see when other teams come in. It's in their heads because people have engrained it that, 'Toronto's turf is different, Toronto's turf is different,' but when you play on it everyday, it's just kind of normal," infielder Ryan Goins added, saying that people make a bigger deal about the turf than they need to.
"I think our turf is fine honestly. It'll be a little bit different this year with having the dirt infield but I don't really see a difference with how the ball comes off it. There might be times it catches a seam here and there but for the most part it was super consistent."
Bottom line is, as Jays fans and baseball consumers, we are going to hear more talk about turf this year because of the changed dirt infield, so ready yourself for that. Although grass may not be on the agenda for the foreseeable future, most seem to agree that baseball and grass should eventually go hand-in-hand across the majors.
"I think grass should be universal throughout baseball. It’s something that since you were a little kid you grew up playing on," Pillar said. "Baseball is synonymous with the smell of fresh cut grass but we also have limitations because of where we’re at geographically and also having a roof. I wouldn’t say it’s a priority for us; I think it’s something that we would all like to see, and have, and be a part of it."
At least Pillar thinks so.