The Rogers Centre will no longer feature the FieldTurf used since Rogers Communications purchased the ballpark. Now, the stadium will house an artificial surface called AstroTurf GameDay Grass 3D. The system consists of approximately 102 rolls that are 15-feet wide -- the longest being 170 feet -- and will run East to West.
The previous system required 1,398 trays and took an estimated 40 hours to remove and store. The new roll system can reduce the number of hours in half, which is a main reason behind the change. Fewer bad hops and a more aesthetically pleasing look are added benefits, but having the ability to alter the playing surface quickly was a priority.
"It just took forever and it made it hard to provide a proper field," said Kelly Keyes, the Rogers Centre's vice president of building services. "It was just so much of a challenge with the old system to have it ready for a baseball game and then a football game or a U2 concert. The new system should be much more efficient and better."
A faster turnover rate also allows the building to book more events, generating more revenue in the process. The long process made it nearly impossible to hold events at Rogers Centre shortly after the Blue Jays were in Toronto for a homestand. Beyond baseball, the building can host CFL and NFL games, along with concerts and other events. The new system includes a configuration for soccer as well.
The AstroTurf consists of synthetic grass with a mix of rubber and sand as its base -- similar to the FieldTurf. Unlike FieldTurf, though, the AstroTurf GameDay Grass 3D has fibers that are twisted in order to prevent spilling when the surface is rolled. Over time, Keyes said this will hopefully help the surface remain soft -- an issue they had with the FieldTurf.
Keyes said her group did a shock absorbency test on the AstroTurf on Friday, using the G-Max rating system. She noted that the AstroTurf tested better than the FieldTurf, which is good news for the athletes who will be playing on the field. Keyes said she could not say if the field would decrease the risk of injury, but the field's rating was a positive sign.
"The old turf was getting very, very hard," Keyes said. "With the old turf we used a machine that kind of fluffed it up as best as we could, but it became a harder field over time. This new turf is unproven, but there's a machine that actually lifts the sand and rubber up and then puts it back down. It actually makes the field softer."
Last summer, the Blue Jays had the AstroTurf installed on a half-field at Dunedin Stadium, where the club trains during spring. Keyes had Butterfield, manager Cito Gaston and former hitting coach Gene Tenace inspect the surface to get their input. Tenace hit ground balls to Butterfield, who was very pleased with how the new surface played.
"We got a feel for it," Butterfield said. "It was nice."
If that early trial run was an indication of how the field would play in Toronto, Butterfield will be thrilled.
"I thought our infield played very tough at Rogers Centre," Butterfield said. "That's not anybody's fault. I just think that ... when you start dealing with seams, that's when balls start doing funny things and that's when feet get stuck -- spikes get stuck. There's a lot of bad things that can come with seams. The fewer the seams, the better.
"The only problem with Rogers Centre was they had to pull the field up, because they had other events going on. So, when we went out of town, they pulled it up and then they set it back down. We would figure out at shortstop, 'OK there's a dead spot. There's a spot where the ball bounces higher.' We'd figure things out, but then we'd have to go on the road after the homestand.
"We'd come back and they would lay it down again, but they'd lay it down a little bit different. We'd have to figure it out all over again."
The new system will hopefully eliminate that problem.
"Ask me about it on Opening Day," Blue Jays shortstop John McDonald said with a smile.