Analysis. History. Perspective.

Sports Then and Now

Grass is In at Major League Baseball Stadiums

Posted on January 20, 2010 by Don Spieles
In 2010 28 of the 30 MLB teams will be playing on natural grass.

In 2010 28 of the 30 MLB teams will be playing on natural grass.

There’s a famous quote from one of my all time favorite baseball players, Tug McGraw, that goes something like this:

REPORTER:  Tug, Which do you prefer: Grass or AstroTurf?

TUG:  I’ve never smoked AstroTurf…

You have to love the Tugger!

Since its hay day back in the 70’s, artificial turf has been prevalent in professional sports, particularly in baseball.  It’s first appearance in the Houston Astrodome in 1965, and plastic grass has been the bane of baseball purists everywhere from just about day one.

The Astrodome was the world’s first domed sports stadium and, as luck would have it, grass doesn’t grow in the shade.   While the name “AstroTurf” is a trademarked product, the phrase gets used to cover just about all of the nasty dangerous stuff that players have been ravaging their bodies on for decades. There’s the painful “Turf Toe,” which is essentially a type of tendonitis common for athletes playing on artificial surfaces.  Earlier versions used rubber based under-matting that could leach chemicals in to the water table.  The stuff also had the pleasant distinction of needed to be disinfected at regular intervals to prevent mold and smell.

Astroturf was created specifically for the Houston Astrodome.

Astroturf was created specifically for the Houston Astrodome.

The 2010 baseball season will see 28 of its 30 teams playing on real grass.  The last two holdouts are Tropicana Field, home of the Rays, which is a dome, and The Rogers Centre in Toronto, home of the Blue Jays, due to climate.

Tropicana Field, the “The Trop” as it is sometimes referred to, was built for the Tampa franchise in 1998.  It was built as a dome so the 5,000 or so fans who actually go to see the Rays can be comfortable through the long, hot Florida summers.  “The Trop” is also known for its low hanging catwalks that turn fly balls into either home runs or impossible-to-field bloopers.

The turf at The Rogers Centre turf has been referred to as “The Quilt” due to its choppy, pieced together look.  The view toward the outfield makes one think of something refugees had sewn together as a makeshift sail.

That initial venue for turf, the Astrodome, went out of the business of baseball in 1999.  The Astros moved to the new Minute Maid Park with its retractable roof and real grass.  Now, the Minnesota Twins will no longer play in the warm confines of the Metrodome as they will open their new Target Field.  This park does not have a retractable roof.  Given the average temperature in Minneapolis in April and October, my vote for the venue name Cryogenics Park.  (I was out voted.)

The important thing, however, is that these venues have grass!  In every boys baseball memory there is his first trip to the ball park.  If it had grass, it was a much different experience.  There are so few baseball memoirs that reference “…the smell of the freshly vacuumed turf…”

But the tradition and majesty of the game is but one benefit to be had from blades of fresh green on the fields.  There’s money to be made, too!  Major League Baseball has entered into a multi-million dollar endorsement deal with Scotts (as in Scotts Turf-Builder and other lawn products.)

You can expect to see lots of commercials for Scotts Turf during the upcoming baseball season.

You can expect to see lots of commercials for Scotts Turf during the upcoming baseball season.

Over the course of the season we’ll see lots of Scotts commercials – some with distinct MLB themes – and other various references to the industry leader in all things grass.

Fans of certain teams will even be able to purchase from Scotts seed blends to match the turf in their team’s park.  The initial offer will include Red Sox (Fenway Park), Cubs (Wrigley Field), Reds (Great American Ball Park), Phillies (Citizens Bank Park) and Cardinals (Busch Stadium).

While MLB has shown some bravado in almost daring the Yankees to sue (grass has been available at that venue for years.  If Yankee blend grass becomes a  future product, it will undoubtedly cost more, plus if you live on the east coast, you will have to have the YES Network or your lawn will be blacked out.

But it’s all good if you’re a baseball fan.  A game like baseball should never be played on plastic.  While real turf is a costly frill for some money strapped clubs there is no danger of job losses and all the shampooers have been retrained as gardeners.

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