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.
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.
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?
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!
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!