TORONTO – The Toronto Blue Jays are replacing the artificial surface at Rogers Centre, choosing AstroTurf to design a new playing field in time for the start of the 2021 season.
Mark Shapiro revealed the plans Friday during a Zoom call with media, adding that the team is also adding new batting cages to the dome, which last year had upgrades to the sound system and 100 level that went mostly unused with the border closure forcing the club to Buffalo.
The new field will be affixed to the ground rather than be easily removable like past iterations, which Shapiro expects will both look better and, more importantly, offer “some safety opportunities” with fewer seams in the surface.
“We went through an extensive (request for proposal), a massive amount of testing over the fall of different applications, and we're going to continue that testing when we think about the fill of turf,” said Shapiro. “During spring training we're going to have a test plot down and have our players on it to think about what we do with the fill. Largely been happy with the turf that we've had in the way that it's played. But we're now looking, thinking player safety.”
The Blue Jays are now one of five teams in Major League Baseball with an artificial playing surface, with the Texas Rangers, who opened their new Globe Life Field this year, and the Miami Marlins, who transitioned from natural grass for opening day, the most recent converts.
They both opted for the B1K system by Shaw Sports Turf, the same system the Arizona Diamondbacks put in at Chase Field in 2019. That turf drew complaints from some players after the transition.
The Tampa Bay Rays also have an artificial surface from Shaw Sports that was installed in 2017 and then replaced for aesthetic reasons a year later.
The Blue Jays have been on the same AstroTurf 3DXtreme field installed for the 2015 season, although they moved to an all-dirt infield the next year. There are 85 panels in the current turf, which can be rolled up for storage.
The new system will feature a shock pad beneath the surface to help minimize impact and create truer ball bounces. With it being affixed to the ground, the rolling lower level stands will also be forced to stay in place, but the dome will still be able accommodate concerts and other events with a cover to protect the turf.
How much the Blue Jays get to play on the surface next season is uncertain with the border to the United States remaining closed for non-essential travel. Rollout of COVID-19 vaccines may impact that, and while Shapiro said “opening here with fans is almost impossible,” he isn’t yet ready to give up on an opening day at Rogers Centre.
“We’re not going to concede because we want to play in Toronto. We want to play in Canada,” he said. “That remains our hope.”
Still, that doesn’t mean the team isn’t looking at other options, and that background work is taking place now.
“As we examine alternatives, whether they are one month, two months or longer alternatives, we look at a variety of variables,” said Shapiro. “Location, proximity to the teams that we play and what travel looks like. Most importantly, health and safety, what it looks like for us to be able to create a facility that allows for the safety protocols. After that, things like training, championship environment, can we can we construct the facilities that allow our players to train.
"Somewhere in that is revenue, but that's not at the top of the list. That's somewhere down a few rungs. Partnership revenue, we certainly want to maintain the relationships and the value for our partners. Selling tickets is probably towards the bottom of the list. But those are all things we do factor as we're thinking about if we have to move to an alternative site for a period of time. We're actively having those conversations now.”