Mac Engel

Rangers’ new $1.1 billion ballpark has a fake feel

Science has bred a chicken to look like a dinosaur and is actively working on humanless home pizza delivery - and a flying taxi - but growing grass 50 feet below grade is just too much to ask.

This is what the Texas Rangers want us to believe.

Science can do amazing — not to mention troubling — things, so accepting that natural grass can’t grow at a reasonable depth is unfathomable.

The Rangers said that right now they don’t know when they will know/announce the surface for the new stadium, which is scheduled to open in 2020.

We all need to brace for this: The new park in Arlington will feature fake grass. The new place has all of the makings of what will be cash-cow mall with baseball as the primary tenant.

“Fifty feet below grade is not a concern itself. It’s about how the stadium is designed to let light in,” said Texas A&M associate professor Ben Wherley, whose expertise is in turfgrass in the school’s department of soil and crop sciences. “My assumption is they will try to get grass in there if at all possible.”

You would think. You would hope.

Alas, Will Use Real Grass was not in the fine print when Arlington taxpayers voted in 2016 to spend as much as $500 million toward the $1.1 billion retractable roof stadium.

The team ever-so gently floated the idea in the fall that perhaps fake grass would be a necessity because the stadium engineers had to dig deeper than originally planned. By several feet.

I believe that part. The not-being-able-to-grow grass I don’t.

Five of the six MLB parks that feature retractable roofs use real grass. This list includes Houston, Arizona and Miami.

Since the Rangers moved from D.C. to Arlington in 1972, the team has always played on real grass. There are only two teams in Major League Baseball that play on synthetic turf: the Tampa Rays and the Toronto Blue Jays.

The Rays play in Tropicana Field, which is not only a dump but also features a permanent roof. The Blue Jays play in Rogers Centre, which features a retractable roof. Wherley said the Blue Jays contacted A&M about possibly growing grass in their park, but the angle of natural light has proven to be a major challenge.

Wherley also said the Rangers reached out to A&M’s nationally renowned department in this field about possibly conducting a light survey last year - and never followed up.

Surely our Rangers would use real grass at the new park. The whole idea of the new place was the accessibility of a roof during our hot season, but to retain the authentic feel of the outdoor ballgame experience. Like, real grass.

Although there have been significant strides in synthetic fields since the days of the knee-ruining AstroTurf, nothing beats the feel and smell of a fresh-cut lawn. Players hated AstroTurf and they hate the new stuff too.

Fans should as well.

Wherley said the temperatures of a properly watered real grass field hover at whatever the temperature is in the air. A synthetic surface only increases the temperature to potentially I-hate-my-life levels.

Synthetic grass is made up of a black material of sand and rubber. When it receives direct sun it can reach 150 to 160 degrees in the middle of the summer, Wherley said.

So Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus could cook breakfast on the field between innings, which is nice.

“If they are going to use synthetic grass, they would have to keep the roof closed nearly all the time,” he said. “The heat on those fields in the summer can melt cleats. It happens during football two-a-days. It’s a major health concern.”

But ... the Rangers and Arlington want the new stadium to be more of a mixed-use venue. They want concerts. You can bet they are going to want it for convention space, too.

Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt told The Lubbock Avalanche Journal in November that a pair of TTU athletic department staffers met Rangers officials, at their invite, about the Red Raiders potentially playing a series in the new park. Not in baseball. In football.

A college football bowl game would have to be on the to-do list as well.

Much like Cowboys owner Jerry Jones with AT&T Stadium, the Rangers are building a stadium that is to be used for far more than just sporting events.

Arlington is building Texas Live! with the idea that AT&T Stadium and the new ball yard will attract patrons for far more than 10 Dallas Cowboys games and 81 Texas Rangers games. There are still more than 270 days on the calendar to fill.

Wherley estimated it costs about $100,000 to change a real grass field after intense usage. He said a synthetic field lasts about 10 to 12 years and costs about $10,000 to $15,000 to recycle.

You do the math. More events mean the grass will be changed out more.

Fake grass may be expensive to put down and throw away, but it’s still not as much as the real stuff.

Fake grass is also not as good as the real stuff.

Nonetheless, the Rangers aren’t sure they can grow grass at their new park.

Although science can breed a chicken to look like a dinosaur and grow grass in all of the warm weather rectractable-roof baseball stadiums, we are supposed to believe that maybe real grass can’t grow in the new Arlington ballpark.

Mac Engel: @macengelprof

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