The uneasy co-existence of major-leaue baseball and the CFL at the Rogers Centre is a prickly relationship that will not get any better. The Toronto Argonauts for their part are happy and why not? They have been to the Blue Jays like a down on his luck relative that you let stay at your place until they're back on their feet and then ... they never leave.
In a storyline that has been suggested for years in various media, but has now been reported substantially in the Globe & Mail, first on Tuesday, the Jays are apparently looking to replace the Rogers Centre artificial turf with natural grass, but not until the CFL Argos move out and find a new home. It says here the Jays should do everything in their power to facilitate the process. They truly need a grass field and the technology is there.
There are currently only two of 30 teams that play their home games on an artificial surface anymore, the Jays and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. But the Jays have forever been foiled in their attempts to consider grass at their stadium, because of their co-tenants, the Argos with their required 10 home dates per season, plus the Buffalo Bills and their contract with Rogers for one regular-season game each year.
In 2005, the Argos with local owners Howard Sokolov and David Cynamon were negotiating for a home of their own, specifically with York University seeking an expanded football facility. Renovation at the stadium would have cost the CFL team an estimated $20 million. Instead, Rogers, which had purched the SkyDome by this time, offered a sweetheart deal of 15 years, renewable and escapable after 2010 and 2015. The deal changed when Argos ownership changed hands and current details are not public, but the Argos stay on, foiling any plans for a change of surface that would be both aesthetically pleasing in creating a baseball atmosphere and would be important in selling the franchise as a landing spot for free agents in a comfort and a safety way.
"I wish," said Jays' shortstop Jose Reyes, a man whose devastating ankle injury on April 12 in Kansas City helped destroy any chances to compete in 2013. "That would be better for everybody. There's probably players who don't want to come here (because of the turf). It's tough to play here on that turf every day. It's a little different (on the injured ankle) when I play here than when I play on regular grass."
The Argos need to find a new home as soon as possible and then the Jays could get moving on the project. The most likely venue would be BMO Field down at the CNE grounds, but the end-zones would need to be lengthened and seats would need to be added. That is only a most likely scenario if MLSE was to purchase the CFL team. There is no word on that possibility so the Argos continue to hang around like gum on the bottom of Jays' shoes.
In terms of big events like the Grey Cup, Toronto could treat its bid just as Montreal has, with the Rogers Centre taking the place of the Olympic Stadium in terms of being sold to organizers as home to the marquee game in November. Even ther NFL situation could be handled with a grass surface by scheduling the one regular-season Bills game after November 1, when the Jays are done with all possible baseball until the next April.
The closest comparison of a current major-league stadium that is enclosed yet still has the ability to grow natural grass is Chase Field in Phoenix, AZ. The natural surface is nurtured through irrigation, an exposure to natural sunlight and the elements whenever possible, plus the use of infra-red lighting whenever there is no event taking place.
The look and feel of a major-league grass surface with a full dirt infield would make a tremendous difference to the Jays' fans and also to the players that in free agency can decide where to play. All of that creates a winner.
Reyes has four years remaining on his contract with the Jays, a deal originally signed by the Marlins. Reyes knows what he's talking about. Bring on the grass. It's long overdue.