Monday, February 3, 2014

Are the Blue Jays Getting a New Turf This Season?


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The hot topic around these parts these past few weeks has been the possibility of installing a natural grass field at the Rogers Centre. What originally began as a pipe dream a few years ago is suddenly becoming more of an inevitability.

It's not really a question of if the Blue Jays will get a grass field at the Rogers Centre now, it's just a question of when. And when is obviously dependent on how quickly the Toronto Argos can vacate the facility and find a new home.

So what are the Blue Jays supposed to play on in the meantime?

I received an anonymous tip last week (and by anonymous I mean truly anonymous) that the Blue Jays may be in the process of modifying the current AstroTurf for the 2014 season.

This information should obviously be taken with a grain of salt considering the undisclosed origin, but there's a chance this person could be onto something.

While AstroTurf is no substitute for real grass, an improved playing surface at the Rogers Centre would at least bridge the gap until the proposed grass field installation in 2018.

This source claims that the Blue Jays are in the process of lightening the field by removing the sand layers of the AstroTurf and replacing it entirely with rubber (or something to that effect).

FieldTurf was the previous playing surface at the Rogers Centre, but according to their website their average sports field weighs approximately 720,000 pounds; the bulk of which is sand.

If you've ever wondered what exactly a FieldTurf is comprised of, here's the breakdown:
  • The bottom layer is comprised of several layers of clean, washed silica sand.
  • Up to 14 passes of a mix of cryogenic rubber and silica sand is then layered into the system. The rubber and sand particles are a similar size to stay in suspension.
  • Larger-sized cryogenic rubber top layers ensure that the rubber remains on top, providing a safe, forgiving surface.
  • Total infill exceeds 9 pounds per square foot on a typical sports field.
  • Over 720,000 pounds of infill is layered into a typical sports field.
With all this taken into account, it finally makes sense why you see the turf at Tropicana  Field behave the way it does during Blue Jays road trips to St. Petersburg.

Whenever ground balls skipped off the turf, it looked like sand kicked up off the field. I could never figure out exactly why, but it turns out there's multiple layers of sand within the typical artificial surface. This may have been common knowledge, but it's news to me.

As detailed by Minor Leaguer at Bluebird Banter, Paul Beeston was also chatting with some season ticket holders at last week's State of the Franchise, and he informed them that a new surface (or at least a modified one) would be going in this season.

This is all logical as the Rogers Centre turf was completely rolled up and on the field at last Wednesday's State of the Franchise event. The Blue Jays Home Opener is also just over two months away, which doesn't seem like much time to get a new surface ready.

I found that somewhat curious as the turf was down the previous weekend for the 'Round the Clock Slo-Pitch Tournament. And there aren't any events planned at the Rogers Centre until mid-March, so why would they pull up the turf so far in advance?

Again, I'm not 100% certain about all of this, but all indications point towards the Blue Jays installing at least some sort of modified artificial turf within the next few years. If not this year, then likely prior to the 2015 season.

My only fear is that a modified AstroTurf at the Rogers Centre may behave much differently than the previous version. Especially if as this anonymous source says, they would be removing the sand and replacing it with rubber.

Players that struggled on the turf last year like Maicer Izturis might have even more difficulty adjusting to the artificial playing surface.

Concurrently, guys like Brett Lawrie and Ryan Goins who performed quite well on the Rogers Centre AstroTurf may experience a slight learning curve on a modified turf.

However, this source claims removing the sand from the AstroTurf will actually soften the field. If that is in fact true, a softer field would ultimately react much more like real grass compared to its predecessor.

A dirt infield at the Rogers Centre would also be a good compromise for the Blue Jays in lieu of real grass. However, Paul Beeston has stated on multiple occasions a dirt infield just isn't feasible due to multi-purpose nature of the stadium.

Despite all the advances in technology over the years, there's simply no substitute for good old fashioned grass. 

Image courtesy of DwayeAli.com

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