Rays tread new turf (literally) for second straight year

Shaw Sports is replacing the turf since it didn't look as good as expected.
Side view of the new turf looked when it was  installed last year. [Times files 2017]
Side view of the new turf looked when it was installed last year. [Times files 2017]
Published Feb. 20, 2018|Updated Feb. 20, 2018

PORT CHARLOTTE — Tropicana Field is getting new turf — again.

Shaw Sports will replace the surface installed last spring in a mutual decision with the Rays that it did not look as good — from the stands or on TV — as expected.

Team president Brian Auld confirmed the change, which apparently will be covered cost-wise primarily by Shaw. The Rays spent about $1 million on it last year.

"We have a really good partnership with Shaw, and they're making it very affordable for us," Auld said.

When the Rays chose Shaw over three other companies year, both sides said they expected the new surface to feel, play and look better, specifically on TV.

And while there were no majors complaints from players or obvious issues with how it played – "I didn't hear one thing," manager Kevin Cash said – there was disappointment in how it looked.

In theory that was not supposed to be an issue based on the Rays selecting a darker color so it wouldn't look washed out, and based on new technology, including a shallower fill, designed to keep the blades standing up and creating less "splash" when a ball hits.

But Shaw officials, mindful of the opportunity to market their turf to minor-league, college and youth league facilities, wanted to be proactive in addressing that issue.

"They really want to make us a showcase," Auld said.

Other technological changes included a proprietary manufacturing technology that combined three distinct fibers, the in-fill being sand heavy and having a polyurethane pad underneath.

The new turf will be the sixth playing surface under the tilted roof in 21 seasons.

Installation is expected to start after a gymnastics event at the Trop this weekend and be finished by the third week of March.

The Rays are slated to host an exhibition game March 27 at the Trop and open the season vs. the Red Sox on March 29, and Auld said they are confident the installation will be done in time.

Though the Rays are looking to build a new stadium in Ybor City, they are going to play at least four more seasons at the Trop under the most optimistic of timetables. Team officials previously announced that they were investing more than $5 million this offseason for other maintenance and projects.