Photo Credit: @James_In_TO

‘We’ve Got To Stop Talking About Grass In the Rogers Centre. It Was Never Happening’

On Tuesday, Hillsboro County commissioner Ken Hagen announced that the county, which covers Tampa portion of the Tampa-St. Petersberg-Clearwater area, has acquired a site in the Ybor City district with the intention of building the Rays a new home there. That’s great news for the Rays and their fans, as it takes them out of St. Pete, which is surrounded by water on three sides and not as easy to get to for most of the people in the region as Tampa proper (not to mention, it takes them out of the shitty Tropicana Field, too). It is, perhaps, good news for the Blue Jays, too — and not just because of their own difficulties at the Trop — as it takes a whole lot of baseball games out of Pinellas County, who the Jays are currently working with on their own stadium project.

On the Fan 590 this morning, Jeff Blair and Stephen Brunt discussed all this, suggesting that the kind of deal that the Rays just made might go in tandem with a decision finally being reached with the Jays — speculating that the deal indeed should get done, and that it shouldn’t surprise anyone if we heard an announcement “on a quiet day at the Winter Meetings,” which will take place from December 10th to 14th in Orlando.

Interesting stuff, I suppose. But not nearly as interesting as what came next — especially if you’re one of those Blue Jays fans who has yet to give up the dream of the club figuring out a way to bring grass to the Rogers Centre.

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After mentioning the fact that when the Rays begin to play in their new stadium the Jays will be the only team left that plays on artificial turf, Brunt laid this on us:

We’ve got to stop talking about grass in the Rogers Centre. It was never happening, it was never real, it was thrown out there — it was a shiny object to distract people in a moment of stress. It’s not happening. For it to happen it would be incredibly expensive, incredibly complex, with no assurance that it would work. And as a fan and a consumer, you actually would really want them do other stuff to that stadium, rather than fail to grow grass and have, like, mold creeping up the walls from the humidity. There was a bunch of reasons why it was never real, and there was a bunch of reasons why it was a good time to throw out an appealing fantasy to the fans. It ain’t happening. Other good things will happen to that stadium, presumably, but that ain’t one of them.

Well… yeah.

I mean, yes, yes, the Jays did fund a study to see whether the project was feasible. And I’m not going to sit here and tell you that was entirely for show, because maybe something would have been found by it that could have made the project more viable, financially. But as the years tick by — the idea of grass was first floated by Paul Beeston in the winter of 2012 (a time when, after finishing the previous season 81-81, the Jays’ big off-season acquisitions were Jeff Mathis, Ben Francisco, Jason Frasor, Sergio Santos, Francisco Cordero, Darren Oliver, Kelly Johnson, and Omar Vizquel) — one finds it more and more difficult to see how anybody’s going to find it worth it to do this for a building that next spring will have its 29th anniversary.

Granted, Mark Shapiro has said that he hopes that the renovations being planned (which one hopes are still as much a priority under Rogers’ new CEO as they were previously) will extend the life of the building by 30 years (or something). And Brunt and Blair joked during the segment that they don’t expect to see a new building for the Jays for a very long time. But that timeline just seems so unrealistic. And if you’re really talking about the building lasting maybe only another 20 years, or 15, less the year since Shapiro first put that timeline on it, plus the number of years it would take to actually get the project done — and with no shovels in the ground this winter, I’d guess it would take until 2020 at the earliest — you start to wonder how many years of use the club might realistically going to get out of the project, and how they could possibly feel it’s worth the massive investment for that. At some point you’d think a new park starts to actually look more appealing, no?

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I don’t know!

But what I do know is that Brunt is probably right here. I’ve been on this train for a while, in fact. Back in February I wrote a piece I titled Don’t Hold Your Breath About Rogers Centre Grass, in which Mark Shapiro was pretty clear about the major challenges the grass dream would face. Two of those were the fact that, as he explained then, “the turf would need to be changed three times a year,” and that “the roof cannot be opened until May.” Translation: huge expense every single year, not just in terms of replacing the turf, but presumably in bringing in specialized lighting to ensure that it grows properly in the early spring when it can’t get proper sunlight. “We could do anything, but it would cost a ton of money to put grass in here.‎”

Hey, but if you’re into pipe dreams — and let’s be honest, you are — we can at least hope that maybe the grass/new stadium issue is one that will be resolved by new ownership! Or, perhaps, that Rogers is simply averse to having big financial commitments to facility upgrades affecting the price they can sell club for!

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Or maybe, y’know, like Brunt says, we should have never got so worked up about this to begin with. The dirt infield is nice though!

  • A Guy

    I’m more interested in the changes to RC. Would like them to try to do something about the exposed concrete everywhere, especially on the outside. It looks like a warehouse. Has anything been said?

  • Barry

    In my ongoing effort to spin everything into a positive, I’ve got this one:

    We will continue to be the city of choice for free agents who are allergic to grass pollen.

      • Barry

        As soon as Michael Lewis writes “Plasticball,” everyone else will switch to astroturf, but let’s strike while the iron is hot. If some big free agents are still available in spring training when pollen season hits, surely we can get them to say “fuck this shit.”

  • The Humungus

    “Or, perhaps, that Rogers is simply averse to having big financial commitments to facility upgrades affecting the price they can sell club for!”

    One way or another, the stadium is going to require a pretty sizeable capital investment. That’s going to effect the price of sale regardless. Either it’s a building undergoing a massive retrofit, or it’s a building with a useful life of ~10 years before replacemnt. Anyone who were to buy with have to deal with the cash outlays for either scenario. Given it’s current location, though, unless they build a new park at Downsview, any ownership group would rather have the upgraded park at the current location for 25 years than have to find a new location with halfway decent public transit options to start a build in 6-7 years.

  • Regulator Johnson

    Some day a park will have to go down by the waterfront: Skydome won’t be viable forever and as much as I’d like it I can’t imagine building a new stadium in the same spot is a realistic option. I’d hope the city could help to lessen the tax load on the land to keep them within easy transit distance of the core, but with the current political climate doubt that’s feasible. Thank god we’ll have a hugely cost effective one stop subway to Scarborough in time for the new park to go there…

        • Barry

          They’re reopening the Cinesphere next month, and the rest of the park in stages, though I think aside from the Cinesphere and whatever the Molson Amphitheatre is called these days, it’s all going to be parkland.

          Is the biggest Ontario Place island big enough for a stadium? You might be able to squeeze one on there if you took out the Amphitheatre and filled in the channel between that and the bigger island, but I don’t know. They’re artificial islands, though; I don’t know if it the land could support a structure that big … but I am not an expert on that sort of thing. My guess, though, is that onshore would be much less of an engineering feat.

          Besides, if they ever tear down the Amphitheatre I want it to be to bring back the Forum, but that’s a topic for my old-man ranting.

  • Joseph W Bats

    Re grass

    Two things would make me happy:
    *Turf that doesn’t look like sh*t and
    *A dirt warning track.

    It’s 2017. These things are possible, aren’t they?

    • Peter Gowdy

      I don’t care much about how the turf looks to fans, but I do care if the players don’t like it. Despite the weirdness of those little black rubber thingies bouncing up when a ball bounces on this turf, it seems to me that the turf works pretty well. Almost amazingly well for artificial turf. But man are you right about that warning track needing to be dirt. It is shameful that the warning track does not feel different to outfielders backing up on a long fly ball, as it is just the artificial turf fucking painted brown!!! Also, all the shit on the outfield wall like scoreboards and ads that are made of hard plastic must go as well. Outfielders get injured when they bang into these stupid hard things.

  • Seguaro

    The dome will never get grass – guaranteed. That said, keeping and acquiring talent in the only non American market that will eventually become the only franchise with astroturf will be nigh on impossible.

    • Barry

      That’s often a claim, but it doesn’t seem to have been supported by what has actually happened. If the franchise is worth playing for, and the money is right, few free players will give a damn. There might be the occasional bad-kneed player who is scared off, but we’ve had turf for 40+ years, and for many years now there’s only been one other turf field, and there isn’t a lot of evidence that it’s hurt us. I think there was one player who was rumoured to have used turf as an excuse several years ago (when the team seemed to be going nowhere, which is an important note), but that rumour was subsequently contradicted by the player and the Jays. I can’t remember who that player was or I’d provide more details … I’m going on fuzzy memory.

      I also don’t think there’s much real evidence that the turf causes injuries. Brett Lawrie blamed it for his injuries … none of which could have been turf related, which made the comments bizarre. (The turf fractured his hand with a pitch?) The dirt infield, which is apparently quite hard, might be a bigger culprit than the turf, but I don’t think there’s enough data on that yet.

        • Barry

          I forgot about Glaus, but it wasn’t him I was thinking of. It was Carlos Beltran, I now remember. Anthopoulous said he didn’t want to play on turf, but Beltran then denied that the Jays ever made an offer and said he’d have no problem playing on turf, but that it was more a matter of the Jays wanting him to be DH, while he wanted to play in the outfield.