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PATTERNS IN THE GRASS
Civic Stadium in Portland, Ore. has artificial turf, which is not exactly red-hot news these days. But some weeks ago the Portland Beavers of the Pacific Coast League carried out an experiment that may bring about a revolutionary change in baseball—if not in the actual play of the game, then certainly in the traditional appearance of the baseball diamond.
The Tartan carpet in Portland, which ordinarily covers only the normally grassy portions of the outfield and infield, was extended to cover the entire playing field—the base paths, the batter's boxes, everything but the pitcher's circle. Then the Beavers played a three-game series with the Phoenix Giants to see what would happen. Before play started sandlike granules (called "sliding spheres") supplied by the Tartan people were sprinkled around the bases and home plate.
Results were on the bizarre side, and reactions varied. The weather had been persistently damp—no surprise in the Pacific Northwest—and all three games most likely would have been postponed because of wet grounds if it had not been for the artificial turf. But they were played, and without difficulty, except for sliding. No one was quite sure whether it was the wetness or the granules or a devilish combination of both, but when a runner slid into a base he just kept right on sliding, and the sight of a ballplayer desperately clutching the base with his arms as he zipped by became commonplace. A spokesman for Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing said it was not a real problem, simply a matter of overseeding the base paths.
Charlie Fox, the Phoenix manager, disagreed. "There is no substitute for dirt," said Charlie. "Artificial turf is fine, and it's the thing of the future, but it doesn't belong on the dirt part of the infield or on the base paths. Guys don't know where to start their slides. And it doesn't belong in the batter's box. Hitters will have trouble pivoting on it. You can't beat dirt."
But Red Davis, the Portland manager, thought the experiment was a success. "It's just a matter of players adapting to it," Davis said. "Years ago they had to adapt to night ball, and they did. They'll adapt to this."
A WORD FROM A MASTER
There is an old golf maxim to the effect that "you drive for show and putt for dough." It's easy to remember, but you don't necessarily have to believe it. Ben Hogan doesn't. To the four-time U.S. Open champion the driver, not the putter, is the most important club in the bag.
"You can be the greatest iron player in the world or the greatest putter," Hogan explained, "but if you can't get the ball in position to use your greatness, you can't win.
"It all starts with the drive. If you can get your drive in position, you can be a mediocre iron player and still score. If you're a good driver, the rest of the game is easy. If you're a bad driver, oh, you might get by for a couple of days. But for a long haul, over four days of a tournament, it will kill you."