Work in Sports
Houston will take a second stab at indoor grass
Posted: Sunday February 06, 2000 03:34 PM
HOUSTON (AP) -- The effort to grow grass indoors didn't turn out too well at Houston's last ballpark.
The Astrodome sported the real stuff in its first season, 1965. But the grass died, and scientists came out the following year with a space-age replacement called Astroturf.
The Astros will try again on Monday. The organization will start putting in the same type of Bermuda grass -- 419 Tifway -- at Enron Field that they tried in the Dome.
"We certainly hope we have learned a lot in these last 35 years," team owner Drayton McLane Jr. told the Houston Chronicle.
The new Enron Field is a retro-style retractable roof park that is set to open March 30.
Scientists are promising that, this time, in this facility, the grass will grow.
Only two baseball stadiums, Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix and Safeco Field in Seattle, have tried growing grass beneath a roof that opens only part time.
The ballpark in Arizona, which opened in 1998, has had serious problems. Three kinds of grass have been tried after the turf wore out too quickly or required more sunlight. The Seattle stadium opened for the second half of the 1999 season and its turf has adapted well, Mariners officials said.
Even with new technology, there are no guarantees. One agronomist has speculated that the Houston field will have to be resodded a couple of times a year. But even at a cost of about $130,000 each time, Astros officials said the return to grass would be worth it.
"Baseball was meant to be played outdoors," McLane said. "And it was meant to be played on natural grass."
It will take 10,000 square yards of Bermuda grass to fill the stadium.
The plush, close-cropped turf was chosen because it holds up well to heavy athletic use and recovers quickly from cleat marks and other types of damage, said Arthur Milberger, whose father founded Milberger Turfgrass in 1948.
It will take two or three days for about 60 semi-trucks to haul the 42-inch-wide rolls of sod downtown and for Milberger's people to lay the turf.
Computer modeling by the ballpark's architects, Kansas City, Mo.-based Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum, suggested that four or five hours a day would be enough daylight to maintain healthy grass, said the firm's Enron Field project manager, Mike Donovan.
Astros head groundskeeper Luke Jenkins said the field will get at least that much. The roof is expected to remain open during games played through early June.
After that, it will likely close two or three hours before game time, which normally is 7:05 p.m. Most of those nights, McLane said, the team hopes to reopen the roof after the sun has set.
However, no one really knows how early the roof will have to be closed to cool the stadium for fans on game day.
"A lot of unknowns remain," Jenkins said.
McLane said his long-standing desire for a grass field stems from requests by players, desire for more realistic game play and a more aesthetic, traditional baseball experience.
Baseball broadcaster Jon Miller predicts that the change will be a hit with Houston fans.
"It's an outdoor game that's meant to be played on grass," said Miller, who appears on ESPN's Sunday night baseball telecasts and authored "Confessions of a Baseball Purist."
"Grass is at the essence of how the game's played," he said. "Not to mention it's a thousand times more beautiful than Astroturf."