ARLINGTON -- The Rangers began construction of Globe Life Field with the idea of using a natural grass playing surface.The large windows and design of the retractable roof were all set up to maximize the amount of sunlight the grass would receive."We designed the park with the intent we could
ARLINGTON -- The Rangers began construction of Globe Life Field with the idea of using a natural grass playing surface.
The large windows and design of the retractable roof were all set up to maximize the amount of sunlight the grass would receive.
"We designed the park with the intent we could grow grass," executive vice president of business operations Rob Matwick said. "We started there. But the discussion came up: should we look at alternatives and see what's out there? The answer was, if we are doing our diligence, yes we should."
The Rangers ultimately decided that a synthetic grass playing surface, designed by Shaw Sports Turf in conjunction with an extensive study done at Auburn University, would work best. Rangers medical director Jamie Reed took an active part in the study at Auburn to make sure the club's concerns about the product were addressed.
The new playing field will be much different than artificial surfaces installed previously at places like Rogers Centre and Tropicana Field. The entire process was designed to develop a synthetic turf that looked, felt and played like natural grass as closely as possible.
That ultimately will determine if this playing surface is a success. The biggest difference is the "rebound energy" of the surface, said Philipe Aldahir, director of research and innovation for Shaw.
"This new surface doesn't rebound the energy back to the ball and the player as much," Aldahir said. "There is a level of confidence that the player is comfortable with. They don't have to adapt as much from natural grass. You go out for a road series [on natural grass] and then you come back home, you are already fine-tuned [to synthetic turf] because of a similar feel and playing ability, and body reaction to natural grass."
Rogers Centre in Toronto showed the pitfalls of the old artificial turf. A three-game series was tough on visiting players because the hard surface led to back and leg muscle soreness. That same hard surface also caused problems for outfielders, who had to defend high fly balls landing in front of them, caroming off the turf and soaring over their heads.
The Rangers' new surface shouldn't have that problem because the synthetic grass will be filled in with a natural substance consisting of coconut husks and fibers. Tropicana Field and Rogers Centre used rubber to fill in around the grass. The Globe Life Field substance and the padding 2 1/2 inches below the surface will help make the turf play and feel much more like the softer natural grass.
The basepaths and mound will be made of dirt, so the playing field should look the same as natural grass without the rough spots that can develop from wear-and-tear or inclement weather. The facility will also be easier to cool because the roof won't need to be opened on hot summer days to allow sunlight to reach the natural grass.
"I got involved in this study to make sure this was the best possible synthetic playing surface for our players to play on," Reed said. "I'm very confident this is going to be the best artificial playing surface in the game. It will be the safest for our players and for the fans. Aesthetically it is going to look like a natural field. I'm really confident this is going to be a great product."
Natural grass has obvious feel for a game that has history and tradition going back to the 19th century. But grass has its own challenges, and not only in a ballpark with a retractable roof.
"We've clearly learned that the difference in synthetic fields are very different and we can control those," general manager Jon Daniels said. "What I was naïve to was how different the grass fields are around the league. And even how different the individual fields are week to week if they had an event there.
"The consistency element we're going to be able to have is pretty meaningful."
The Rangers will get a chance to see how the surface works before they move into Globe Life Field. The D-backs are installing the same synthetic turf this year at Chase Field after trying to go with natural grass under their retractable roof for the past 21 years.
"The challenge with grass in retractable roof stadiums is they are not consistent from foul line to foul line," Matwick said. "Arizona, for 20 years, tried to grow natural grass. This year, they finally said enough.
"Ultimately, I think the decision that came down was we feel like this will be a more consistent, higher quality field than we can provide with a grass surface at this point. Better conditions, better safety for the players."
T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast.