I don’t necessarily consider myself a baseball purist, at least in a very strict sense. I’m open to slight changes within the game of baseball if they truly benefit the advancement or improvement of the sport. I’ve met people on my travels that want absolutely no change, for the game to remain as it was when they were children. While we all may agree that performance enhancing drugs were (and are) one of the advancements that baseball could do without, it becomes more divided when you discuss issues like the wild card, the DH, or interleague play. A true purist may be against all of the things that I listed; I even know people who are so strict in their opinions, they long for the days when there were just two divisions – American League and National League – and the winners of each progressed to the World Series with no other playoffs.
You may think that I’m addressing this subject because of interleague play starting back up next weekend. While it’s true that a lot of people don’t care for interleague, I’m actually kind of indifferent about it. (Which is guess is good, since there will be interleague games every day starting next year). This is actually about one of my pet peeves in the game of baseball – artificial turf.
So why I am choosing to rant about artificial turf in 2012, when it seems that most stadiums have phased out the fake stuff (outside of domes like Tropicana Field in Tampa and the Rogers Center in Toronto)? That’s because I’ve learned there is a strong possibility that the renovation of historic League Park in Cleveland will include a field surface made from artificial turf. I hate artificial turf, and as someone who studies history (particularly baseball and sports history), I think it would take away from the historic feel of League Park to put anything down that is not real grass.
I wrote a bit about the renovation of League Park this past January, once the rehab was confirmed and announced. League Park hasn’t hosted a professional team full-time since the Negro League Cleveland Buckeyes folded in 1950. The ticket office building and one of the brick walls still remain, and the footprint of the field and stadium are still in tact. The renovation is a big deal – it’s been discussed for about the last 20 years, yet never got off the ground. It’s really the last old major league park that still exists, even though Birmingham, Alabama’s Rickwood Field is considered the oldest park in the country.
I got the opportunity to visit Rickwood Field in 2010, which like League Park was a part-time site for Negro League baseball. Even though all of Rickwood Field has been preserved over time, it showed me what was possible with the League Park site. When you stepped through the gates, you felt like you literally stepped back in time; even the advertisements on the outfield wall were nostalgic to another era. I think it would be much more difficult to capture that feeling at League Park if the field surface was made from artificial turf.
While I don’t know the exact reason that officials are considering artificial turf, I can take a guess. It may seem like it’s a more cost-effective decision, since you don’t have to mow or perform as much maintenance on turf. Although it’s not as if there is no maintenance for turf; depending on the type selected, turf often has a rubberized base that needs refilled periodically. If it starts to wear down, or gets damaged, you can’t just plant more of it.
To my knowledge, there are two primary groups of people that use League Park – vintage baseball teams and youth sports leagues (not just baseball, but I’ve seen football teams practicing there as well.) One concern of mine is that there was a recent study in the American Journal of Sports Medicine that found that football knee injuries were 40% more likely on artificial turf, as compared to grass. Even though the study focused on football, it’s possible that anyone exerting themselves on turf are more likely to sustain injuries. With baseball, turf often makes the ball travel faster, and take more awkward, high bounces – this could make sharply hit ground balls more dangerous among youth baseball leagues. With the vintage teams that use League Park, they play true to 19th century baseball and do not wear fielding gloves. I’m sure they don’t want more sharply hit grounders flying toward their bare hands. Some may say, “well those people can just go play somewhere else.” I’m sure they could, but why would you want to drive away the primary groups that already use the facility?
Perhaps you don’t have a problem with artificial turf, or are indifferent about the possibility of its installation at League Park. Like I said, we all have our pet peeves and this just happens to be mine…it may not necessarily be yours. However, if you happen to agree with me and think this is an extremely dumb idea, spread the word. I’ve heard that while this has pretty much been decided, it’s also not too late to change peoples’ minds and get a natural grass playing surface at League Park.
When my source told me about the impending turf, they said, “We need to get the Rally Cows out to stop this nonsense.” Well…duh. Of course cows would rather graze on natural grass (even stuffed novelty cows).
Follow Stephanie on Twitter: @stephanieliscio