ST. PETERSBURG — The new Shaw Sports Turf playing surface at the Trop should play and feel better than what the Rays have had before, officials say, based on a combination of improvements including shorter blades, proprietary manufacturing technology combining three distinct fibers, a sand-heavy in-fill and a polyurethane pad underneath.
And as if not more important, it should look better.
"The appearance for me is going to be the big thing," Rays vice president Rick Nafe said. "It was embarrassing at times to look at (the old turf) on TV or in real life and see the glazing effect. …
"We think this will stand up a lot better. It's kind of like having a flat-top haircut — it's easier to maintain."
The Rays paid about $1 million for the 130,000-square-foot artificial surface, their fifth in 20 seasons, in hoping it is closer to the real thing.
Shaw's Todd Britton said having the shorter blades (1¾-inch vs. 21/2), the 860,000 pounds of in-fill being 93 percent sand and minimal tire rubber, and the pad should make for truer play and less wear and tear on the Rays players, who have thus far been pleased, noting it plays a little faster.
"From what we know about the market, this is the closest thing to natural grass in terms of playability for baseball," Britton said.
The Rays also spent about $650,000 to upgrade their message boards, adding video in centerfield and animation to the sideboards.