The Blue Jays haven’t officially announced plans to install a dirt infield at the Rogers Centre for the upcoming season, but Stephen Brooks, the team’s senior vice-president of business operations, spilled the beans via Twitter on Saturday.
“Plan to start in Feb.,” Brooks tweeted in response to a fan’s question about when he could look forward to more dirt and less turf in Toronto.
Brooks did not respond to a request for clarification from The Toronto Star on Monday, but team president Mark Shapiro said earlier this month that a dirt infield — as opposed to just the dirt cutouts around the bases and pitcher’s mound that are currently in place — was “definitely” under consideration for the upcoming season.
The Jays are one of just two teams in Major League Baseball who play their home games on artificial turf and they are the only team without a dirt infield. The Tampa Bay Rays also play on turf, but have always played with dirt between their bases.
While it could spell the end of Toronto’s self-proclaimed “world’s fastest grounds crew,” here are five reasons why a dirt infield is a cut above.
Re-imagining the infield
• It looks better: This will be the most obvious upside to fans. A dirt infield looks more like an actual baseball field, with the sand-and-clay diamond surrounding the lawn around the mound.
Simply put, it’s more pleasing to the eye.
• It’s easier on the body: Dirt or no dirt, artificial turf is still basically a carpet laid atop concrete, but a dirt infield should be better for players’ bodies by providing more of a buffer from the unforgiving concrete floor.
While the latest iteration of artificial turf — installed last season — is noticeably softer and easier on players’ backs and joints, adding dirt to the base paths will reduce players’ exposure to the worst elements of the field.
• A better quality field: The biggest obstacle to an all-dirt infield at the Rogers Centre was the Toronto Argonauts and the stadium’s accommodation of football, which required the baseball field to be rolled up and laid atop itself after every home stand.
Every time the turf is rolled up on itself — as it has been roughly 15 to 20 times a season — the quality of the turf is degraded. It becomes harder. That’s why the Jays had to purchase new turf every five years or so.
With an all-dirt infield, the turf will have to stay in place for the entire baseball season, which is the case in Tampa, where the field is permanently in place.
• More predictable hops: While last year’s softer turf certainly aided infielders by slowing down ground balls, players are likely to prefer the predictability of an all-dirt infield, which will be more uniform than turf.
“There’s going to have to be some getting used to, that’s for sure,” said Mike Mordecai, the Jays’ coordinator of minor-league instruction and a former infielder for the Braves, Expos and Marlins.
“The thing they won’t have to deal with anymore, though, is balls hitting seams (in the turf) and shooting six inches to the right or left.”
• One step closer to grass: Installing natural grass may not be as much a priority for Shapiro as it was for his predecessor, Paul Beeston, but moving to an all-dirt infield is still a step in the direction of a natural field.
Brooks said as much earlier this year: “It would be Step 1 in the real-grass project,” he told the National Post back in September — before Shapiro took over — about the possibility of a dirt infield in 2016.
Adding dirt to the infield will require retrofits to accommodate water drainage, which will also be necessary if the Rogers Centre were ever to install grass. So even if natural grass remains a far-off dream in Toronto, one would assume the team will keep the possibility open as they break ground for dirt.