Friday April 01, 2016

Can you actually grow grass inside the Rogers Centre?

Construction workers hammer out concrete as they install the new dirt infield at the Rogers Centre in Toronto.

Construction workers hammer out concrete as they install the new dirt infield at the Rogers Centre in Toronto. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Listen 7:21

This weekend, the Toronto Blue Jays will begin another season's quest to reach the World Series. 

But for several years, they've also been on another quest: trying to figure out how to get rid of the artificial turf at the Rogers Centre and replace it with real grass.

Currently, there is only one other stadium in Major League Baseball that has artificial turf: Tropicana Field in Tampa, where the Jays will start their season on Sunday.

The Jays have taken the first step towards transforming their stadium. It now features an all-dirt infield, which players say makes balls bounce more predictably.

But real grass remains the holy grail.

Eric Lyons, an associate professor of turf grass science at the University of Guelph has been commissioned by the Blue Jays to study whether it's possible to grow real grass at the stadium. 

Lyons says the biggest issue when it comes to growing real grass at the Rogers Centre is humidity.  "It can be a dealbreaker. We don't know how much humidity these grasses will create in the giant stadium," he tells Day 6 host Brent Bambury.

BBA Bautista Bat Flip Card

Toronto Blue Jays Jose Bautista flips his bat after hitting a three-run homer during seventh inning game 5 American League Division Series. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Then there's the issue of natural light. "If they could open the roof up, it's actually a very good stadium for growing grass," he says, noting that the amount of sunshine it gets -- with the roof open -- is ideal. So is airflow, he adds.

"But when the roof is closed, these things are no longer provided.  They're going to be at 100 per cent artificial light. And there isn't a stadium in the world that's working in that way," Lyons says.

Working in labs funded by the Canadian and European space agencies -- with the ultimate goal of growing plants extra-terrestrially, Lyons is excited about working on the project. He got interested in the subject while playing college football on artificial turf in a domed stadium. 

Asked directly whether there will ever be real grass at the Rogers Centre, he's circumspect.

"I don't know. It's not about the grass. It's about the building.  We have the technology, it's just never been engineered because there's never been a stadium that needed it."