During the Blue Jays annual State of the Franchise event for season ticket holders, the most notable revelation of what was talked about was the long time poorly kept secret that the Rogers Centre will be converted to a grass stadium for the 2018 season. The team has tasked the University of Guelph to develop technology to grow grass in the retractable roof stadium.
The stadium is owned by the team and is the 5th biggest by capacity in the league, and one of only two with artificial turf (Tropicana Field is the other).
Opened for use in 1989, the (then) Skydome fueled the success of the Blue Jays teams at the time. The first stadium to host 4 million fans in a season, the Blue Jays were able to year after year be amongst the highest payroll teams in the league, culminating with back-to-back World Series championships in 1992 and 1993.
The once marvel of the league, the Skydome was the last of the modern style multi purpose stadiums. Almost everything built afterwards came in with grass and the classic stadium look. All were purpose-built only for baseball.
The Rogers Centre has hosted the CFL’s Toronto Argos (who have been informed they have to be out of the stadium by seasons-end 2017), the first few seasons of the NBA’s Toronto Raptors, the NFL’s Buffalo Bills, soccer, concerts, Wrestlemania (68,237 attendance) and UFC PPV’s. It will host the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2015 Pan Am Games.
What was new, became old and outdated quickly. Players in the post-strike league were now looking at playing on padded concrete with a team being sold and passed around amongst owners with diminishing payrolls.
The stadium ultimately ended up becoming a money pit and was bought up by Rogers Communications as part of their team ownership for a mere $20 million (for a stadium that cost $590 million to build).
Since then, there have been a lot of upgrades but the prevailing complaint as team’s budgets increased was the artificial turf. Players with existing knee issues reportedly wouldn’t sign, and talk radio’s top question was when would the ‘dome get grass. Fans often complained about the “atmosphere” of playing in a multi purpose concrete stadium.
Between now and 2018, the Blue Jays will have to install drainage in the playing surface. There is no drainage now, so the concrete of most of the playing surface will have to be broken up. They will need water and humidity control systems, a grass supplier (likely from south of the border) and lights designed to help grow the grass in place. Word is the grass will need fairly frequent replacement.
What is old will be new once again. The stadium that was home to the first world champion outside of the USA and was home of Joe Carter‘s World Series winning home run has a true renewal plan.
With the hopes of once again hosting an All Star game also revealed at the event, fans of the team with the longest playoff drought in professional sports will have one thing to look forward to, with the hopes that a winning playoff bound team walks that grass one day soon.