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Shapiro prompts shift to dirt infield

Blue Jays president sees move as step toward natural grass
MLB.com @gregorMLB

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays still don't have natural grass at Rogers Centre, and whether they ever will remains a highly debated topic, but the installation of a dirt infield is at least a first step.

Toronto announced this week that a dirt infield will be installed in time for the 2016 season. Work is scheduled to begin Monday, and it will involve the excavation of the concrete Rogers Centre floor around the entire infield area.

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays still don't have natural grass at Rogers Centre, and whether they ever will remains a highly debated topic, but the installation of a dirt infield is at least a first step.

Toronto announced this week that a dirt infield will be installed in time for the 2016 season. Work is scheduled to begin Monday, and it will involve the excavation of the concrete Rogers Centre floor around the entire infield area.

President Mark Shapiro said Thursday night at the club's annual season ticket holder event, "The Leadoff," that it was something he looked into almost immediately after officially joining the Blue Jays in November.

"I think there are some benefits to both the players and the fans," Shapiro said. "It's one step closer to a natural playing surface. It gets our infielders on the dirt for the defensive part of the game and I think it will create a better fan experience, too, for watching the games.

"It wasn't necessarily a priority for me, it was simply a question coming in, 'Is this possible?' It was a pretty quick 'yes' in support from ownership that we could do it from an expense standpoint this winter. It was a pretty quick decision, a pretty easy one, and I only see positives as long as we execute and do it well."

The execution will be key, because maintaining a dirt infield in a closed environment does create some problems. The only comparison is Tampa Bay's Tropicana Field, and some Blue Jays players have complained in the past about that surface becoming quite hard and firm over time.

That's where Blue Jays head groundskeeper Tom Farrell will become a key component in all of this. There will be some trial and error along the way, but Toronto will have to learn the proper way to treat the playing surface. The organization also plans to adjust the installation process based on conversations that took place with the Rays.

"We've tried to learn from their experiences and I think, even in the installation, made some alterations and changes in the depth of the subsurface that will allow it to hold moisture longer, which has been an issue down there," Shapiro said.

"But there will be learnings along the way. I'm sure there will be some things that don't go perfectly that we'll get better at. It adds another facet of care that the grounds crew has to think about, but I think we have the leader and the grounds crew that's up to the task."

As for the natural grass, Shapiro said he remains open the idea but hasn't made a firm commitment one way or the other. Toronto asked the University of Guelph to take a closer look at the issue, and a study is underway to determine which strand of grass would make the most sense.

"It's still something that we're researching, the study is still going on at Guelph," Shapiro said. "There are some real challenges. The fact that the install would go in mid-March and the roof wouldn't open until mid-May.

"Whether you could keep grass alive for that period of time, that's probably question No. 1, so we'll have to figure all of those things out. We have people far smarter than me that are studying that from an agriculture and engineering perspective, and once we get the report, we'll know."

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Toronto Blue Jays