The Toronto Blue Jays’ 26-year-old home is one of only two stadiums left in Major League Baseball where the game is played on artificial turf. As fans of the ball club know, the combination of synthetic fibres and rubber on top of concrete at Rogers Centre (formerly SkyDome) has taken a toll on players’ bodies and frustrated fielders accustomed to the way a baseball bounces on real grass. So earlier this year, the team hired researchers at the University of Guelph to assess the feasibility of growing grass inside Rogers Centre for the start of the 2018 season.
“It’s a chance to put into application basic plant science. We all know plants need light, they need air movement, they need soil, they need all these things. When you try to grow them in a building, it gets a lot harder,” says Eric Lyons, the plant scientist leading the team of researchers working on the $600,000 project in the interview below.
Speaking with RealAg’s Bernard Tobin, Lyons describes the challenges with growing plants in an older building that wasn’t designed to handle the transpiration of between 2 and 3 acres of grass.
“The building has airflow and air-conditioning to deal with 55 thousand people, but it doesn’t have airflow and air-conditioning for 55 thousand people plus transpiring plants. That’s a huge humidity load that we have to make sure the building can be retrofitted to handle,” he explains, noting high humidity would not only affect the building but would increase disease pressure on the grass.
Upgrades to the retractable roof would also be helpful for growing grass in Rogers Centre, notes Lyons.
“There have to be major changes to the roof opening and closing system. It takes a while to close and open. If they can speed that up, they can leave it open more, allowing more natural light,” he says.
If the Blue Jays decide to install natural grass, the turf will likely include Kentucky bluegrass or perennial ryegrass varieties, says Lyons. Based on other stadiums, he expects 15 to 25 centimetres (6 to 10 inches) of soil will be enough to establish a healthy root zone.
As part of the deal with the Blue Jays, the university is supposed provide a report on its research in the spring of 2016. Lyons says they have four goals for the next year:
- Estimate the amount of humidity that will have to be mitigated so that engineers and architects can come up with plans for upgrading the ventilation systems in Rogers Centre.
- Determine the daily light integral for different grass cultivars that might be used.
- Choose the best grass cultivar (or more likely, combination of cultivars.)
- Observe the climate and air movement within Rogers Centre, so if the Blue Jays decide to proceed, they can conduct research on plots simulating the Rogers Centre environment. This information would be used to develop a management plan for when natural grass is installed.
And just for fun…