Work begins on dirt infield at Rogers Centre

Work begins on dirt infield at Rogers Centre

TORONTO -- Construction has begun, and the Blue Jays are well on their way to having an all-dirt infield installed at Rogers Centre in time for the start of the 2016 season.

The work began Monday morning and will continue until the end of March. That will give the grounds crew a full week to groom, treat and monitor the conditions in preparation for the home opener against Boston on April 8.

The crew will dig 12 inches into the ground and then fill the infield area with a multilayer system that includes gravel, sand and then the final clay product that will be visible to fans and players.

"What we had previously in our pit was a four-inch clay depth. We knew when we were moving over to an all-dirt infield that wouldn't work for us," head groundskeeper Tom Farrell explained.

"The problem we have, in the summer months when it's really hot, you have a situation where that clay dries out really quick. So one of the things we wanted to make sure was that we had a good base to start with."

The Blue Jays are set to become the sixth team in Major League history to play its home games on an artificial turf surface with an all-dirt infield. Houston's Astrodome (1966-71), San Francisco's Candlestick Park ('71), Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Stadium in the early 1970s, St. Louis' Busch Stadium (1970-76) and Tampa Bay's Tropicana Field (1998-present) are the others.

The lack of comparables does make things a little bit more complicated for the Blue Jays' grounds crew, and there likely will be some trial and error along the way as the organization finds out what works best for Rogers Centre. An open line of communication with the Rays seems to have helped as well, with the Blue Jays learning from previous mistakes.

Tropicana Field has received some criticism over the years, with players openly talking about how the surface has a tendency to dry out and become very hard. Farrell was aware of the issues, but he made a point of saying some of those concerns were unique to Tampa Bay, while changes were made in the process to address other potentially problematic areas.

"They have a few challenges," Farrell said of the Rays. "Where the dirt migrates into the turf, that dries out and gets compacted. We have an advantage here where our turf is removable. So at the end of the baseball season, we have the opportunity, if needed, to remove our turf, take it into our loading dock area and literally pressure wash all of that dirt out and start fresh for a new season.

"The other thing is Tampa unfortunately has a situation where, similar to what we had with our existing base pits, they have shallow dirt depth. There is only approximately five inches of clay on top of a concrete base. Concrete absorbs moisture out of the dirt, so they have those challenges during the summer months [when] the dirt is drying out and cracking long before the games end."

To address the issue of drainage and moisture, the Blue Jays are using multiple layers in their surface to make it more natural. After digging to a depth of 12 inches, construction workers will fill the area with two inches of gravel, four inches of sand and then the final clay product.

Work is scheduled to continue throughout the month of March, but workers will take a short break to accommodate Supercross and Disney on Ice events that were previously scheduled for the building. Temporary fill will be used for those events and then removed so that the work can be completed in time for the start of the season.

"The last week of March, we'll start removing the temporary fill, we'll lay down the AstroTurf field, that will have to be cut and reshaped to fit the new dimensions," Farrell said. "Then following that, that is when the clay will go in.

"A week before the home opener, we will have a baseball field here. It gives the grounds crew a chance to learn the new process of maintaining this stuff and making sure we dial it in to the exact texture and compaction level that we want."

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