Shoeless Joe Jackson
"Field of Dreams," 1989
The thrill will be greater than ever when this season gets under way. It is almost entirely a real-grass world in Major League Baseball now, adorably different from a couple decades back when artificial turf was still the rage and structures like the Astrodome, Kingdome and Metrodome were a fact of life.
This year there will be real grass under the baseball cleats of 28 home teams, the most ever, with Minnesota joining the movement now that outdoor Target Field is set to open in April. Tampa Bay's Tropicana Field is the lone remaining dome, and of the retractable-roof parks, only Rogers Centre in Toronto has an artificial playing surface, because of the climate.
For many younger fans, it is impossible to imagine it any other way. It is a real-grass sport, a groundskeeper's paradise, and it arrives in the spring at the same time as the average homeowner's lawn -- lush green and with the unmistakable smell of the national pastime. That makes it a perfect time to introduce Major League Baseball's newest major sponsor: Scotts, the "Official Lawn Care Company of Major League Baseball."
With less a month remaining before pitchers and catchers step onto the grass fields of Arizona and Florida for Spring Training, MLB continued its addition of major sponsors to the 2010 lineup on Wednesday by announcing a multiyear relationship with the Scotts Co. The relationship -- the first of its kind for MLB Properties and the largest sports deal for Scotts -- encompasses sponsorship, licensing, national MLB-themed advertising and local club partnerships.
For fans, one of the coolest things about this announcement is that you will be able to purchase the grass seed blends and fertilizers featured in some of the most iconic Major League ballparks. These products were designed by Scotts in consultation with the head groundskeeper at each ballpark and will debut in 2010 for fans of the Red Sox (Fenway Park), Cubs (Wrigley Field), Reds (Great American Ball Park), Phillies (Citizens Bank Park) and Cardinals (Busch Stadium). Other club-specific products are in development.
"The grass on the field of play is part of the very foundation of baseball, so this deal with Scotts, the worldwide leader in lawn care, is a natural fit for Major League Baseball," said Tim Brosnan, MLB's executive vice president for business. "Now with the help of Scotts, our fans can challenge their local clubs for the title of who has the 'best lawn in the neighborhood.'"
"This is a partnership between two great American brands -- the overlap between baseball fans and homeowners is immense," said John Price, brand manager for lawns marketing at Scotts. "Now fans can use the same Scotts technology and seed varieties used on Major League Baseball fields to achieve premium results on their home lawns."
Price added in a separate interview with Reuters: "It's a powerful feeling when you walk through the concourse and see that emerald green field in front of you. I don't mean to get 'Field of Dreams'-ish, but it's a powerful emotion for consumers and really tapping into that emotion and showing off what Scotts products can do, there's no better product showcase than that."
Indeed, "Field of Dreams" is the iconic vision of how many of us see baseball fields. A pastoral setting where you watch your own feet transition from fresh dirt to real blades of grass that bend under your spikes. Where you can dive for baseballs at will, with virtually no rug burns. It is such a different setting today. Just consider the National League Central alone, once home to artificial turf fields for the Astros, Cardinals, Pirates and Reds.
Three of those gorgeous grass ballparks recently hosted All-Star Games, and the Reds have continued lobbying for the event as well. The Cardinals, who hosted the last All-Star Game, are commemorating the 25th anniversary of their World Series team -- a club built for carpet play. They lost in seven in 1985 to the cross-state Royals, who also played on artificial turf at the time, but have since converted to grass at just-remodeled Kauffman Stadium.
"Don't tell me about the world. Not today," author Pete Hamill once wrote. "It's springtime, and they're knocking baseballs around fields where the grass is damp and green in the morning, and the kids are trying to hit the curve ball."
Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew used to tell the story about his father saying, whenever Harmon's mother would complain about playing baseball ruining the lawn: "We're not raising grass. We're raising boys."
Baseball fans commonly ask how they can manicure their lawns the way MLB groundskeepers do -- and specifically how they can cut those unusual shapes that characterize MLB fields. Murray Cook is head groundskeeping consultant for MLB and is about to commemorate his fifth anniversary as an MLBlogger. He often explains that very subject, and fans are encouraged to follow his blog and ask questions in comments to get just that advice.
In August, the Twins rolled out the first strips of Kentucky Bluegrass-blended sod at Target Field. That seed was chosen for its dark green color, wear tolerance and excellent winter hardiness coupled with strong summer performance. At the time, Twins communications director Kevin Smith said: "When the natural grass goes in, this goes from being a project to being a ballpark."
Chase Field is set in the arid climate of Phoenix, and the playing surface for the D-backs there consists of Bull's Eye Bermuda, which has proved to be the most suitable grass for a facility with a retractable roof. Although more than half of the club's home games are played with the roof closed, the turf receives sunlight at every opportunity. On game days, the roof remains open into the afternoon to allow maximum exposure, and when areas of the field receive little natural sunlight, large incandescent growth lights provide a substitute.
In Houston, where they also play under a retractable roof at Minute Maid Park, the club's media guide says: "The year 2000 saw something the grand old game of baseball had not experienced since 1964 -- a Major League team in Houston playing on natural grass outdoors." The playing surface features Seashore Pas Palum grass, and the drainage and irrigation systems include 6,682 linear feet of perforated pipe and 4,406 linear feet PVC pipe.
Just the kind of topic baseball fans are waiting to talk about right now. That and how players look walking and running over the surface, doing their summertime thing. With only two exceptions now, it is what baseball fans expect: natural grass.
In addition to the licensed products, Scotts has negotiated sponsorship agreements with the Braves, Red Sox, Cubs, Reds, Angels, Phillies, Cardinals and Rangers. Scotts will have in-stadium exposure as well as the ability to feature club logos in local advertising and promotions for these markets.
As part of its national sponsorship commitment, Scotts made significant media commitments to national Major League Baseball television rightsholders, as well as to other MLB-produced programming. Scotts will air MLB-themed commercials, and the MLB and club logos will be prominently featured on a wide range of in-store marketing materials throughout the year. Scotts will also sponsor a premiere attraction at All-Star FanFest.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.