Workers ready Rogers Centre for Opening Day
Race track gives way to diamond as return of baseball nears
While the Blue Jays are in Florida putting the finishing touches on Spring Training, work crews in Toronto are quickly preparing the Rogers Centre field for the start of the regular season.
On Saturday night, the stadium was home to a Supercross FIM World Championship event. Workers spent all day Sunday removing the race track to set the stage for what eventually will become a Major League Baseball field.
It's the first real indication that baseball is officially back in Canada.
"The quick turnaround of the field is our forte," said Tom Farrell, who is the club's head groundskeeper. "A lot of the other teams have more time to get the field ready than we do but we're used to it with the ever-changing event schedule during the baseball season. We're constantly moving the field in and out."
This week, a conversions crew will be in charge of laying down the Astroturf. Fork lifts and a specialized machine nicknamed the "Grasshopper" install the 125x15 foot rolls that are eventually sealed together with Velcro.
The process starts with the infield, where crews must place the turf around the mound and each of the bases. As the field starts to take shape so too will the fences, foul poles and eventually the bases.
"If you can imagine installing floor tiles, if you have to cut around drains or things like that, just how complicated that can be," Farrell said. "Same thing here, you have multiple cut-out areas that you have to fit around.
"What you do on one end can drastically affect you 125 feet down the other way. It's important to get it right the first time because once it's laid down you can't go back and move it."
Once the conversion crew has completed the infield it's time for Farrell and his 14-person team to begin preparing the field for action. Each base must be carefully layered with dirt and clay.
The same thing must be done with the pitching mound but there's one major difference between the two.
"We have a floatable mound," Farrell said. "It's actually built on a fiberglass dish. Essentially, below the mound is an open well that is filled up with water, the mound floats to the surface and then is locked into place."
Once the mound takes shape, Farrell's crew puts 12 inches of clay around the perimeter. The base is a round bean type of clay mixture, that has a higher clay content than other areas of the field because of its resiliency.
There's also a grey clay used in parts, which provides better footing and doesn't break down as easily during the game. When the surface is in place it has to be measured to ensure it meets the proper dimensions, slope and height as per league rules. It's a process that can take up to 16 hours.
While the top layers of the surface usually needs to be discarded because of debris, sunflower seeds and other foreign objects, the base remains mostly intact.
"The majority of the clay is continually used and recycled," Farrell said. "When we convert the field we'll remove the clay with front-end loaders. ... There's a machine that is used to shred the dirt. We water it, treat it, basically recycle it and we'll use it for the new install.
"Essentially, the clay we have there, is the same clay that we installed in 1989. So we have a large portion of World Series clay in our base areas."
Once the field is in place this week, Farrell might be able to breathe a sigh of relief but his work is far from over. He will be attending Opening Day, just like he does every other home game, to ensure there aren't any problems with the playing surface.
While there are always adjustments that need to be made throughout the course of the game, a good work day consists of going relatively unnoticed by the players and fans.
"It's one of the jobs where you actually feel like you're part of the game," Farrell said. "If things go wrong you know you could be responsible for that. You're just happy at the end of the day, if you haven't affected the game in a negative way, that you've done your job right and you can sleep well."
After a long six months away from live baseball he also seems as ready to go as the team that heads north on Wednesday night.
"It's going to be an exciting season." Farrell said. "Hopefully a lot of fans come out and support the team. We're really looking forward to this year. It's always exciting getting back to baseball, the winter always seems really long, we're all excited to get back to work."