Construction has begun on the new dirt infield at the Rogers Centre, which is expected to be installed in time for the Toronto Blue Jays' 2016 home opener.
Last week it was announced crews will excavate about 12,000 square feet of concrete. The infield and baselines will be dug out to a depth of 12 inches and filled with layers of gravel, sand and clay.
"It will now look like a true Major League Baseball field," said Kelly Keyes, Rogers Centre's vice president of building services.
Keyes says the catalyst for the change was when the Canadian Football League's Toronto Argonauts decided to move to BMO Field in time for their 2016 season.
"We've always been a football-baseball stadium so we were never able to do anything different because we had to convert in and out." said Keyes
"So having them leave gave us the ability to install a dirt infield, a permanent dirt infield for the season, because we are not going to play football anymore in the stadium," said Keyes.
The head groundskeeper for the Toronto Blue Jays, Tom Farrell, says these initial stages of construction will take four weeks.
The new infield will see a proper dirt diamond connecting home plate to first, second and third base like most other major league ballparks.
Previously, Rogers Centre had squares of dirt around each base and home, with turf between the base paths. When the Blue Jays were on long road trips or the Argos had a game the dirt would be scraped off the cement floor and the pitcher's mound would be lowered in to the ground by hydraulics.
Now the all-dirt infield will be permanent with protective plates laid overtop for other events like concerts or festivals.
'Hopefully there's a side benefit of the players feeling a little bit less fatigue from playing on the newer surface.' - Tom Farrell, head groundskeeper for the Blue Jays
Deeper pits for the infield are necessary to increase the circulation of moisture, through two inches of pea gravel, four inches of sand and six inches of clay product, and prevent cracking or dust clouds in the summer heat. The old Rogers Centre infield only allowed four to five inches of dirt.
The new surface could help reduce injuries for infielders and baserunners as the dirt will have more give than the synthetic turf that used to lie between the bases.
"By increasing the depth it does allow us to provide a little bit more of that cushion," said Farrell. "Hopefully there's a side benefit of the players feeling a little bit less fatigue from playing on the newer surface."
Fans taking in Blue Jays games this summer will also notice another difference: the world's fastest groundscrew will be slower and will no longer race in from the outfield.
"It's going to be a learning curve for everybody," said Farrell with a laugh when asked about the groundscrew's record. "There's going to be a new process of doing things, new methods. We'll be using drag equipment which is a lot bigger, so we won't be hauling it from the left-field gate like we have previously."
When asked about how much the process is costing, Farrell said it was "pricey" but did not want to go into details.
"There is a considerable dollar amount and considerable investment from Rogers to make this happen," said Farrell.
Farrell said during the last week of March crews will lay down the Astroturf field.
"A week before home opener we will have a baseball field here," said Farrell.
The Toronto Blue Jays will open at home against the Boston Red Sox on April 8.