The giant hole just south of Globe Life Park keeps getting deeper and deeper, and at some point in the not-too-distant future it will begin to be surrounded by steel and concrete and eventually covered by a retractable roof.
One of the final major steps in the construction of the $1.1 billion Globe Life Field is the one causing the most consternation, albeit some 28 months before the Texas Rangers’ new ballpark will open for business in 2020.
Grass or artificial turf?
People aren’t exactly on the edge of their seats just yet, but talk is talk and the talk is that Ray Davis and the ownership group are dead set on the fake stuff so that they can turn a baseball stadium into a 365/24/7 entertainment venue.
Major concerts, high school football games, corporate softball soirees, anything to make a dollar. In fairness, that’s how teams across baseball, across sports and across the street are treating their stadiums.
The Rangers admit that, yes, they are considering artificial turf. It’s just good business to do so. However, the first thing they told architect HKS was to design a retractable-roof stadium in which natural grass can be grown to preserve the 81 baseball games that will be played there.
That is Plan A.
“We’re building a building that certainly can be used 365 days a year, which Globe Life Park cannot. Part of that is the way teams do business these days, so we have to look at it that way,” said Rob Matwick, the Rangers’ executive vice president of business operations.
“But the thing to consider is baseball is always first and foremost. Our job every day when we come to the ballpark is to find a way to win the World Series. So those 81 games plus the playoffs are precious to us. When we started the design process on the ballpark, the first thing we did was look at how could we design a retractable roof building to grow grass, and we haven’t deviated from that.”
The concern that arose in September at the reveal of the most recent renderings is that the playing surface will be well below grade and perhaps too low for grass to grow well enough to survive a baseball season.
Matwick said that the field will be 50 feet below grade, some 20 feet lower than the fields at Globe Life Park and Minute Maid Park, home to the Houston Astros. Matwick, though, worked for the Astros when Minute Maid was being built and remembers the trials the Astros encountered with their natural surface.
They attempted to grow Bermuda grass first, but it was so difficult to grow and maintain that they went to paspalum seaside grass the next season. Paspalum doesn’t require near the sunlight that Bermuda grass does and has been successfully grown in multiple retractable-roof stadiums.
“I lived the Houston experience,” Matwick said.
He said that the Astros’ grounds crew would open the roof in the morning to bring in sunlight, but constantly looked at the skies to make sure a pop-up shower didn’t soak the field. If they made it through the morning and early afternoon without rain, the roof would begin to close around 2:30 p.m. to cool off the building in time for batting practice.
The Astros learned that they could close part of the roof to protect the infield from showers yet allow the outfield a good drenching. The drainage system at Minute Maid was the same as an open-air stadium, so drainage wasn’t an issue.
The Rangers wouldn’t have to worry as much about the sudden showers as the Astros did, said former Minute Maid groundskeeper Luke Jenkins. He dealt with the Astros’ original Bermuda issues and the transition to paspalum, and that’s the grass he would recommend to Rangers groundskeeper Dennis Klein.
Jenkins, who now works at 44 Farms in Central Texas, has no doubt that grass can be grown by Klein at Globe Life Field, even at 50 feet below grade. He would recommend paspalum and newer varieties of the turf that was first used at a seaside golf course because of its high tolerance for salt.
“I was really, really high on the paspalum under a retractable roof,” Jenkins said. “It beat the Bermuda hands down, and I think Dennis probably knows that. It plays well, the ball comes off it very well, and it stripes up good and looks great.”
Jenkins, though, said it’s not an easy choice the Rangers are facing. If they are to host concerts and more non-game day on-field events, a natural surface will take a beating and make life hell on Klein and his crew.
Not only would they have to worry about their repairs to the surface during the season, they would then have to worry about players catching a seam of new replacement sod or a ball taking a wicked hop off a repaired spot and affecting the game.
Jenkins said two factors will weigh on the club: the money invested in players and players’ concerns about the effects of artificial surfaces on their health and longevity of their careers.
Just look at a player’s no-trade list and see how many of them have the last two teams — Tampa Bay and Toronto — playing on fake stuff.
The Rangers have time, with the grass potentially not going in until four months before Opening Day 2020, but there is more to consider than meets the eye.
“It’s the last piece, but it’s the piece that when people walk in the stadium and take their seat, it’s the piece everyone is going to see,” Jenkins said. “When you turn on your television set, it’s the piece everyone is going to see, and it’s what the guys are going to be playing on. It’s a lot of thinking on what to do and what’s best for the stadium and the players.”
Matwick said that the Rangers are looking into turf because of the business impact and because artificial surfaces have become more player-friendly. But some might be exaggerating the business aspect and potential on-field events the Rangers would hold at Globe Life Field.
He said that the Rangers held more than 200 non-game day events in 2017, but only 10 were on the field.
“I think there’s this misconception that ‘multi-use’ means ‘everything on the field,’ and that’s just not accurate,” Matwick said.
Nor is the scuttlebutt that Davis and the Rangers’ ownership group is planning to use an artificial surface so that Globe Life Field is a 365/24/7 entertainment venue.
Grass remains Plan A.
“I’m going to be clear: The building is being designed with the capability to go with a grass field,” Matwick said. “That has not changed from Day One.”