How the Rogers Centre turns a concrete floor into a field of dreams and fake grass
The artificial turf at the Rogers Centre has, oddly enough, been a source of some controversy over the past few years, because players think its tough, unyielding surface is leading to on-the-field injuries. Blue Jays management is doing everything in its power to hasten the arrival of honest-to-goodness natural sod, but the process is more complicated than it seems. Keeping grass alive and happy in a stadium requires all sorts of fine adjustments and mechanical upgrades. “We’re working with the University of Guelph on a specific species of grass,” says Kelly Keyes, Rogers Centre’s vice president of building services. “Ourselves and the Tampa Bay Rays are the last two teams that play on turf.” As a stopgap measure until the happy day when the real grass arrives, the stadium has just invested in a brand new set of Astroturf. According to Keyes, the new stuff has a more realistic, two-tone look—and, because it hasn’t suffered years of abuse, it’s also quite a bit softer than the previous turf, and not as heavy.
The fuzzy green carpet went down for the first time at the end of March, after Disney’s redundantly titled Frozen on Ice cleared out of Rogers Centre ahead of the start of baseball season. Here’s a step-by-step look at the surprisingly exacting process of turning a concrete floor into a lush, playable field of fake grass.
The turf is stored in special “turf bays” located at the north end of the stadium, below the video board. The rolls have to be laid out in a specific order. “It’s like a puzzle,” says Keyes. Labels on the rolls tell workers which turf goes where.
The new turf is properly called Astroturf 3D Xtreme. “Apparently it’s extreme,” Keyes says. Its two-tone fibers are supposed to make it look more realistic than the previous stuff. It’s also lighter, and, because it hasn’t yet been crushed underfoot a million times and repeatedly rolled and unrolled, it’s softer.
Using a dowel-like carpet boom, a forklift moves the turf to a staging area on the stadium floor. The rolls are different sizes, but Keyes reckons the heaviest ones weigh 7,000 to 8,000 pounds.
The rolls of turf are much too heavy for workers to unroll by hand, so they use this machine to lay the stuff on the floor.
The turf roller has a familiar brand name. Rogers Centre has four of these things.
The Zamboni does a pretty good job of laying the turf down, but it’s never perfect. Workers use these spiked forklift attachments to nudge the grass into place. “We built them ourselves,” Keyes says.
If the panels of turf are more than an eighth of an inch apart, the gaps are wide enough to trip up players during games—an outcome Rogers Centre needs to avoid at all costs. Workers use carpet kickers to make fine adjustments to the spacing.
“Once it’s laid in place, we velcro it together,” Keyes says.
The whole process takes about 40 hours, most of the time. Once all the turf is down, workers add rubber to the eighth-inch gaps between the turf panels and then groom the entire field to make sure there are no undulations. The grooming also makes sure that all the loose rubber pellets that give the turf its bounce are evenly distributed.
The last step is filling in the bases with clay and painting lines on the field. Workers used to repaint the Blue Jays logo every time, but the image is now permanently tattooed on the turf—another subtle improvement.