Tampa Bay Rays: Installing New Turf at Tropicana Field

Jun 17, 2016; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; A general view of Tropicana Field where the Tampa Bay Rays play the San Francisco Giants. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 17, 2016; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; A general view of Tropicana Field where the Tampa Bay Rays play the San Francisco Giants. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

In time for opening day, Tropicana Field will have a new look as the Tampa Bay Rays are installing a new turf that is supposed to be easier on the players.

For the fifth time in 20 years, the Tampa Bay Rays will be installing a new playing surface at Tropicana Field that will replace the Astro Turf that was installed in 2011.  This new turf is supposed provide a firmer and truer surface and easier on the players.

The new system comes from Shaw Sports Turf one of the leading synthetic turf companies in North America providing quality and innovation. The Rays will be Shaw’s first Major League Team to use their product, which they will be paying for at a cost around $1-million, per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times.

Although this will be Shaw’s MLB debut, they have a very impressive list of colleges including Georgia Tech, University of Arkansas, University of Maryland, East Tennessee State University among others that have the system for many of their athletic programs and the NFL, which the Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns and the New York Jets practice facility.

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Part of the agreement that the Rays have with Shaw is the installation of a turf infield and a practice area at the team’s Port Charlotte facility, and that work has begun.

Shaw prides themselves on the safety and performance of athletes with their product and for the Rays this could be a blessing. Over the years, the various turfs that have been at Tropicana have played havoc on many of the outfielders, as turf does not provide any cushion or give causing significant injuries on players’ legs and essentially their entire body.

There are those that speculate the nagging injuries to Carl Crawford (leg, knees), Desmond Jennings (knees) and now Kevin Kiermaier (hip) were in part caused by the everyday wear and tear of playing on the turf.

Crawford in a 2016 interview with Bill Shaikin of LA Times, insisted the turf took its toll, even though he only had one stint on the DL in his nine years with the Rays.

"“I played real aggressively on turf for nine years,” he said. “I’m lucky I’m still walking the way I’m walking now. I’m still walking, at least.”"

The main difference between Shaw’s turf and that of the current Astro Turf is that there will be a hard foam pad installed between the concrete base and the new turf. The under filling of the Astro Turf was comprised of fiber blades with a rubber in-fill system and did not always provide a true bounce, especially in the infield.

According to team president Brian Auld, the new surface will be better for the players’ bodies and play a little truer.

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"“Unsurprisingly, turf technology has evolved in the last five years and we think the new turf will be better for our players’ bodies and play a little truer, and aesthetically will be an improvement on TV and in person.”"

There will be no changes to the all-dirt infield or the dirt paths around the outfield, and will be a bit darker in color. Auld also said that it would feature a shallower fill that should keep the blades standing up, and create less splash when a ball hits the surface. In the past, when a hard hit ball hit the surface, you could see little pellets splash, looking as though the ball went through a puddle of water.

When Tropicana Field opened the doors for baseball in 1998, the “Devil-Rays” played on flat Astro Turf, no padding nothing at all underneath. In 2000, they switched to a more grass looking surface called FieldTurf, which they replaced and stayed with in 2007.  In 2011, as part of a sponsorship deal through Major League Baseball, the Rays installed Astro Turf.

“We continue to invest in Tropicana Field,” Auld said. “It’s our home and we want to make it the best venue we can for Major League Baseball.”

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Currently, there are no teams in the National League with artificial surfaces, however the last remaining teams with turf are the Toronto Blue Jays and of course our very own Tampa Bay Rays.