New Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro doesn’t consider grass at the Rogers Centre to be a true “need”. Given the Jays priorities, it may be a slowly dying project
Grass in the ‘Dome. The debate has simmered for years now, but had come to the forefront towards the end of Paul Beeston’s tenure as the former president began a fairly encouraging and public push to have grass installed by 2018. The conversation soon quieted, though, and Mark Shapiro has done little to re-ignite any optimism.
Speaking with Toronto media on Thursday, Shapiro made it clear that the natural grass project is one of several projects the Blue Jays are facing. “My opinion is, we don’t need it,” he told John Lott of the National Post. “My opinion is, clearly (natural grass) would be better. It’s just a question of the alternatives, and what we are going to have to choose between.”
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Everyone can agree that grass is the better option here, but if we step back and view the financial commitment, this project could easily lose out to a series of smaller endeavours that entail far fewer obstacles. The Rogers Centre is due for many upgrades elsewhere, ones which do not involve reverse-engineering a concrete behemoth to support living grass to the tune of Paul Beeston’s estimate: $200 – $400 million.
Another example could be Toronto’s spring training facilities. With the organization’s Dunedin contract nearing expiration and Shapiro’s experience with moving the Indians’ facilities to Arizona, would a financial commitment to that project be more preferable to Rogers?
“When you look at modern ballparks, you’ve got to provide a diversity of experiences for the way different people want to consume the game,” Shapiro continued. Let’s assume for a moment that the grass project, from start to finish, costs $250 million. Rogers could easily be of the opinion that spending that money elsewhere would increase the fan experience, attendance, etc. It’s a balancing act, unfortunately.
For what it’s worth, Tony LaCava tells Lott that they are receiving fewer complaints from players as they continue to update and upgrade the turf. “There’s not as many leg and back complaints,” he said. “You don’t hear much of that at all. I think it’s playing more like grass than anything we’ve ever seen.”
The ongoing study at the University of Guelph could produce some results that kickstart the project again, but it continues to fade from immediate likelihood. For the time being, however, I struggle to understand why a full dirt infield would not be a positive, and more cost-effective, first step.
Not only does the dirt infield create a more pleasing baseball optic, but having Troy Tulowitzki and Josh Donaldson spending their defensive innings on dirt should be more appealing than the turf. It could also be more forgiving across the board in terms of base running.
While Atkins is taking over a team, Shapiro is taking over a business. Like any new president, he’s landing in a position where he doesn’t agree with a number of the projects currently in progress. We’ll need to exercise some (more..) patience with the grass issue, but it’s entirely likely that the Blue Jays could decide going forward with this project would pose too many financial and logistical problems.
The real issue here is the disadvantageous point that the 26-year old ‘Dome is putting the Blue Jays in, but that’s a bigger and angrier conversation we can have a decade or two down the road.