Tampa Bay Rays' new AstroTurf gets rave reviews

ST. PETERSBURG — The new AstroTurf surface at Tropicana Field previously earned rave reviews for how it looks and feels like regular grass.

And after the first game on it Wednesday, a 5-3 Rays victory over the Jays in the spring finale, both teams were pleased with how it played.

"It doesn't play as fast as you think without knowing it's turf," Rays 2B Sean Rodriguez said. "It plays pretty normal. You get your good hops, your bad hops."

AstroTurf's newest model, Game Day Grass 3D-60H, was installed during the offseason, replacing FieldTurf. It was designed specifically for baseball, and the Trop is the first pro facility to have it. (Duke and Wake Forest are the only baseball facilities to use it.)

"It has more of a grass feel to me," RF Ben Zobrist said.

The Jays, who play on an older model of AstroTurf, liked how consistent the Rays' version is.

"It's a true hop," 2B Aaron Hill said. "You don't get any crazy hops — at least not yet, anyway."

1B Adam Lind noted Toronto's turf was laid in several pieces with Tampa Bay's being one large sheet.

"It's definitely less bouncy," Lind said. "Ours is just a bunch of squares. You never know what's going to happen out there."

The Rays had a half-field of the AstroTurf in Port Charlotte, and several players worked out at the Trop a few weeks ago to test it. Manager Joe Maddon said afterward they met with the company's representatives, who made adjustments.

"I think it plays really well for this team," Rays INF Elliot Johnson said.

PERSONAL MATTERS: DH Manny Ramirez was not at the game for what the Rays said were "personal reasons."

Maddon said Ramirez "is fine," and he found out a couple days ago he had "some personal things to attend to … and there was something he really had to do."

Ramirez will be back for Friday's opener, Maddon said.

STANDING TALL: RHP Jeff Niemann said he felt good about his four-inning start Wednesday during which he allowed three runs and four hits on 65 pitches. "Everything felt like it's where it needs to be to start the season," he said. "I'm going in feeling good and feeling confident."

GAME DETAILS: 3B Evan Longoria hit a solo homer (his fourth) as did Johnson, who also had two hits and stole his major-league leading 12th base of the spring before an announced 8,568. CF B.J. Upton hit a go-ahead two-run single in the seventh, walked twice and stole two bases, including home on a double steal in the third.

RHP Adam Russell and LHP Jake McGee threw a scoreless inning in the second of back-to-back appearances.

The Rays finished the spring 15-14-2 sparked by a 14-7-1 streak that tied the Brewers for the best in the majors over the past three weeks. Maddon said they played Wednesday with the kind of effort and aggressiveness he'd like to see during the regular season.

MISCELLANY: RHP Jeremy Hellickson will pitch in a Triple-A game in Port Charlotte today. … The Rays are approaching a sellout for Friday's opener with just obstructed-view and scattered single seats available.

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Rays' new AstroTurf gets rave reviews 03/30/11 [Last modified: Thursday, March 31, 2011 1:09am]

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