Thought processes and conversations started under the tilted cap of Tropicana Field. Someday everyone will know the Rays play in St. Petersburg, Florida, not TAMPA, or the fictitious city of TAMPA BAY.
The first experimental synthetic playing surface was installed at Moses Brown School in Providence, Rhode Island back in 1964. Artificial field surfaces have come a long, long way since that first applications. The industry has evolved over time and has now outfitted more than 15,000 fields Worldwide with the playing surface that needs no water, and minimal upkeep.
But there is a turbulent storm brewing on the horizon for the Tampa Bay Rays. One that will possibly pit both industrial leaders of this unique surface on opposites sides of the table as the Rays front office might begin to fully investigate possibly replacing their current FieldTurf surface in the near future.
Members of the Rays grounds crew have told me the surface is aging faster than expected and is in need of either intensive rehabilitation or replacement within the next few years. But will the Rays automatically turn to FieldTurf, or will their decision be compacted by the outside influence of another industry giant with the backing of Major League Baseball.
Could the Rays playing surface final recommendations be made more difficult by MLB’s 2010 announcement to deem AstroTurf to be the “Official Turf for Major League Baseball”. The MLB stamp on using the AstroTurf style might have been further punctuated by the fact that in the 2009 off season the Toronto Blue Jays removal of the still fresh FieldTurf playing surface and put down the next generation product produced by AstroTurf.
I find it really interesting that the last MLB team to change to the FieldTurf system from the AstroTurf playing surface in 2004 was the Blue Jays. The change was accented by the team’s concern over all of the unexpected infield bounces or odd outfield hops off the artificial surface. The Blue Jays got AstroTurf’s newest creation called Game Days Grass 3D which is said to more adequately mimic the real grass feel and texture. Individual monofilament blades are suppose to produce a more natural appearance.
But here is where it gets difficult. The Rays currently have the FieldTurf application on the concrete surface of Tropicana Field, and has been the preferred artificial surface provider of the Rays since it was first put down at the Trop. back in 2000. The battling escalated between the two competing brands as FieldTurf and Rays 3-time MLB All Star Evan Longoria would become the “face” of the FieldTurf baseball brand. Presently there are 350 FieldTurf baseball fields and that number is skyrocketing largely because of the consistent ball bounce and performance properties associated with the FieldTurf brand.
“There is no question that Evan Longoria is one of the preeminent names in all of baseball,” said FieldTurf President Eric Daliere. “Being one of the game’s best hitters, in addition to being named to the All-Star team and winning a Gold Glove, is certainly no fluke. Evan’s commitment to being the best and his success on FieldTurf is very exciting to us. This is a tremendous opportunity to form a partnership with one of the most exciting individuals in the game today. The baseball product that we have developed is without question the finest in the world. FieldTurf is extremely proud of its position as the worldwide leader in synthetic turf surfacing, and we very much look forward to working with Evan.”
Some may have viewed this as a preemptive strike by FieldTurf to facilitate a stopgap measure for the Rays to talk first with FieldTurf before even considering a competitive brand for the Tropicana Field playing surface. I have spoken to several members of the Rays grounds crew about the FieldTurf in the past, and this season the opinions are leaning more towards a possible replacement of the playing surface soon.
I asked Dan Moeller, the Rays Head Groundskeeper at a point during the 2010 season what he thought after returning from a first Rays road trip to Toronto this past season and he is not a fan currently of the AstroTurf system installed in Rogers Centre. Moeller felt that the underneath lining used in Toronto would not work in the Trop, but we all know that these situations are usually constructed to work with the individual needs of the client.
Rogers Centre will take the extremely long rolls of AstroTurf up for concerts or motor events while Tropicana Field keeps the FieldTurf in place during their off season events. The differences between the two products is minimal as both use a monofilament fiber as the basis of their systems. With the inclusion of the same type infill materials such as silica sand or recycled rubber, the two companies produced similar products.
Each competitor has their own unique patented system of employing the filaments to their respective surfaces, with numerous backing options and infill variations. With the possible pluses and minuses begin about the same, the final decision might come down to the financial side of both applications. Will AstroTurf give the Rays a hearty discount or possible free installation to get another foothold on the MLB marketplace.
Would FieldTurf possibly be willing to supply the Rays with their latest product as a show of respect and admiration for the Rays sticking with the company faithfully since 2000. Losing another MLB caliber client could be disastrous for FieldTurf. Tropicana Field is just one of over 500 fields that currently are aged over 8 years or more who are still performing they were when first installed.
But the Rays carpet is showing its wear and tear. Its luster is beginning to fade and talks will possibly begin this off season into furnishing a replacement option for the Rays. Will MLB have a final say in the matter? Can the Rays get enough of a loyalty discount from the makers of FieldTurf to continue their long standing tradition ,or will AstroTurf swoop in with an offer they can not refuse?
Usually when I envision a “turf war” I do not even remotely think of a green expansion of monofilament carpet with small granulated grains of sand and rubber used. But the fight between these two industry giants will be just as intense as one company tries to keep their image strong among baseball elite, while the other is knocking at the front door wanting another chance with some huge muscle behind them. Personally I like FieldTurf, but then again an upturned jagged seam edge on an older style AstroTurf field help conclude the end to my football career.
The following are trademarks or service marks of Major League Baseball entities and may be used only with permission of Major League Baseball Properties, Inc. or the relevant Major League Baseball entity: Major League, Major League Baseball, MLB, the silhouetted batter logo, World Series, National League, American League, Division Series, League Championship Series, All-Star Game, and the names, nicknames, logos, uniform designs, color combinations, and slogans designating the Major League Baseball clubs and entities, and their respective mascots, events and exhibitions.