It’s long been an eyesore to fans in the stands and to those watching at home on TV.
And now that they fear it might cost them the opportunity to land a premium free agent, the Toronto Blue Jays say they are seriously considering rolling up the Astroturf and installing a grass field at Rogers Centre.
The surprising revelation came from team president and CEO Paul Beeston in response to a question from a season-ticket holder during Monday’s state of the franchise event at Rogers Centre.
It’s long been held that a grass field could be not be sustained at Rogers Centre for the duration of a baseball season. Not so said Beeston.
“Grass can grow here. We’ve checked it out,” he told a scrum of reporters moments after completing an hour-long Q&A session for fans along with general manager Alex Anthopoulos and manager John Farrell. “The real issue that we have is we have other events (at Rogers Centre), not just the Argos, but the other events here.”
Beeston added that there are fertilizers available strong enough to sustain a grass field for a baseball season, provided the field stays in place for the duration.
“If you made the decision that you were going to make it a baseball-only stadium and you were going to put grass down, the question being can you do it, the answer would be yes,” said Beeston. “Theoretically and practically. It can be done.”
The biggest current obstacle standing between the Blue Jays and a grass field appears to be the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL, a Rogers Centre tenant for nine dates in 2011 between the start of the baseball season and the conclusion of the World Series.
The Argonauts current lease with the Rogers Centre is set to expire at the end of 2012, the same year their current five-year deal with the Buffalo Bills of the NFL ends.
There is talk that Rogers Centre owner, Rogers Communications, and the Bills may extend their partnership beyond 2012, but as long as future Bills games aren’t held during the baseball season it should pose no threat to a grass field for the baseball season.
Rogers Centre is also scheduled to serve as the venue for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Pan American Games in July, 2015.
Earlier in the evening Anthopoulos acknowledged that this off-season the Jays had lost out on two free agents with whom they had offered more money and more years to. Later in his scrum with reporters, Anthopoulos refused to divulge the league the respective players will ply their trade in next summer, but he did concede the Blue Jays current playing surface is a non-starter for some free agents.
“There’s certain players that just don’t have any desire to play on turf no matter what the dollars are,” he explained. “At times it does affect things, it’s a factor. It can pose a challenge at times, but I’m not one to make excuses. This is a place that when it was turf, all the great players were willing to come here.”
Still, Anthopoulos is a big proponent of rolling up the Astroturf for good.
“That’s exciting, the fact that there’s even a conversation about it,” he said. “But again, that’s a decision that’s way above my pay grade. But from a selfish standpoint, I’d love to see it happen.”
As CEO of not only the Blue Jays, but of Rogers Centre as well, Beeston knows the numbers better than anyone and he said he has an idea of how much a move to grass would cost. If that’s the case it would appear then that the only decisions to be made now are whether Beeston wants to do it and whether Rogers is willing to bankroll the extra gardening supplies and potential lost revenue from other events.
In the meantime, Beeston and Anthopoulos said they can win on the turf, even if it means missing out on the odd free agent.
“Carl Crawford wanted out of Tampa Bay because he didn’t want to play on turf anymore,” Beeston said, referring to the playing artificial surface at Tampa’s Tropicana field. “So there’s a real live example. If we wanted Carl Crawford, Carl Crawford didn’t really want us. Not because he didn’t like Toronto, not because he didn’t like John Farrell, not because he didn’t like Alex Anthopoulos, not because he didn’t like our money. He didn’t want to play on turf.”
Beeston was then asked if he thinks a grass field is therefore imperative when pursuing elite free agents.
“It may well be,” he said. “It may well be, (for) getting that premier, young free agent.”
Anthopoulos said although he’d love to see his team play on grass at home, the playing surface won’t be such an issue if the team is winning.
“If we’re contending for a World Series each year, it’s not going to be a problem,” he said.