The Toronto stadium has had an artificial or a synthetic surface as its field since opening in 1989.
Toronto is just one of two major league ballparks that have synthetic turf. The other is the Tampa Bay Rays‘ Tropicana Field.
Blue Jays senior vice president of business operations Stephen Brooks told Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet that “this will both improve the surface for the players and also enhance the atmosphere of the stadium for our fans.”
Per Nicholson-Smith, the team will “excavate parts of the cement floor at Rogers Centre by 12 inches.” The infield dirt will be placed in those excavated areas.
There has been some dirt on the infield in prior seasons but only surrounding each base. This gave baserunners an area to slide. But synthetic material covered a majority of the basepaths.
The Blue Jays put in new turf prior to the 2015 season, per Ted Berg of USA Today, but it caused some problems, as Jeff Blair of Sportsnet detailed:
Word is already out: the new Rogers Centre turf is some sort of living, breathing, bringer of erratic stuff. It’s where ground balls go to die, at least until it gets worn in… Blue Jays manager John Gibbons suggested before the game that the new surface could be an equalizer, given the way the home runs usually fly out of the Rogers Centre. One Blue Jays player noted that ‘it’s almost like they’ve given us a new stadium, or at least a place that plays like a different stadium.’
Fox Sports’ Jon Morosi reported in April that MLB was monitoring things at the Rogers Centre.
“MLB is actively monitoring the turf situation at Rogers Centre due to irregular bounces on the surface, source says,” Morosi tweeted. “MLB has not arrived at any conclusions or resolutions about Rogers Centre turf, but [the] league [is] concerned about anything affecting fair play.”
At the Rogers Centre, ground balls hit with speed maintained the same kind of pace, and anything hit with a spin would take odd hops on the turf, which put fielders at a disadvantage.
While the dirt infield doesn’t completely solve the problem, it will give fielders a better chance to react to balls hit toward them. On dirt, the number of odd hops will likely decrease and resemble more of a normal infield encountered in most other major league ballparks.
However, the synthetic turf will still be lying where grass normally should on baseball fields. For the Blue Jays and the Rogers Centre, replacing the synthetic turf should be the next step toward creating an authentic field for fair competition.