Blue Jays looking into installing grass at Rogers Centre

Club has partnered with University of Guelph on research project

Blue Jays looking into installing grass at Rogers Centre

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays have partnered with the University of Guelph on a research project to explore the possibility of installing natural grass at Rogers Centre.

Toronto team president Paul Beeston made the announcement at the club's recent State of the Franchise, while the University of Guelph has since confirmed the news and provided additional details about the deal.

Researchers will receive $600,000 as part of the agreement, and a year-long study is now underway. The goal is to have natural grass installed with a dirt infield by the start of the 2018 season.

"We are thrilled to partner with the Toronto Blue Jays on this exciting project," said Rene Van Acker, associate dean with the Ontario Agricultural College and a professor in the Department of Plant Agriculture.

"The challenge of developing a natural turfgrass field for the Rogers Centre is very unique, but we are confident that the combination of the Blue Jays' commitment and our special expertise and research capacity will produce a facility that players and fans will love, and that will meet the challenges of the Rogers Centre as a world-class multiuse facility."

The Blue Jays and Rays are the only two franchises in Major League Baseball that play their home games on an artificial surface. Beeston has made it one of his top priorities to make the switch to natural grass, and while the process is expected to be very complicated, the initial stages of that plan have been approved.

The project will be overseen by Eric Lyons, who is a professor in the Department of Agriculture and a leading turfgrass expert. Lyons has been tasked with determining which strand of grass would be able to grow indoors under artificial light. Other aspects that need to be examined are the humidity levels, air circulation, water and durability to survive an 81-game home schedule.

Lyons has been asked to recommend a specific strand of grass by spring of 2016. From there, it will be up to the Blue Jays to determine whether such a move is feasible and what type of upgrades would be required to make it happen. Rogers Centre currently is not equipped with proper drainage, and substantial renovations would be required even if the right type of grass can be identified.

"I am certain that we can do this -- find suitable grass species and ways to ensure they will flourish inside the stadium," Lyons said.

"The question will be whether it's feasible for the Blue Jays to do it, and that's what we're going to help them answer."

If the project continues after the initial year, the grass will be grown at an Ontario sod farm and then tested in a simulated environment under artificial light before possibly getting the go ahead for the 2018 regular season.

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.