The Texas Rangers have opted to switch course by announcing they will install a specially designed synthetic grass playing surface at their new ballpark that will be the best in baseball.

Globe Life Field is scheduled to open in March 2020, with its large windows and retractable roof having originally been designed with a natural grass pitch in mind. However, the Major League Baseball (MLB) franchise said that after two years of research into player safety, team performance and fan experience it has opted for a synthetic grass field which will be provided by Shaw Sports Turf, with installation completed by Texas-based Paragon Sports Constructors.

Shaw used Globe Life Park in Arlington’s current natural grass field as one of the benchmarks for its ongoing playability study, conducting a series of tests on that playing surface in August 2017.

In addition to the benchmarking research, Shaw Sports Turf is funding and participating in a kinesiology study with Auburn University. The study’s main goal is to research how players react on certain surfaces, with the resulting data to be used to tune systems for player safety and optimal performance.

The Rangers said the goal is not to only have the highest performing synthetic grass, but also to have the highest performing surface for baseball. “From our first visit with the staff at Shaw Sports Turf, we were clear that a synthetic grass surface for Globe Life Field would only be a consideration if it could deliver the best surface in Major League Baseball and address the concerns we had related to impact on the players,” said Rob Matwick, Rangers executive vice-president of business operations.

“Months of detailed research that included extensive input from our Baseball Operations group from both a health and performance aspect have resulted in this decision. Shaw’s commitment to research and development have been second-to-none. However, its engagement with the study at Auburn demonstrated to our staff that Shaw was just as concerned about player safety as we were.”

By using the data analysis tool, the system can be tuned to meet the playability characteristics that matter most to the team. The system provided to the Rangers will be specific to their needs and unique to the 41,000-seat Globe Life Field.

The Rangers will opt for the B1K natural system, which employs a natural, sustainable infill called Geofill. The team said B1K natural was also an important element regarding their concerns with environmental impact and sustainability. The Geofill infill used in the system is made of coconut husks and fibres, which is a rapidly renewable resource. The infill requires much less water than natural grass, resulting in significant levels of conservation.

Shaw Turf vice-president, Chuck McClurg, said: “The Texas Rangers are a franchise that definitely does its homework and they don’t take any decision lightly, especially this one. We are very excited for the opportunity to partner with them on this project.

“Throughout their research and our discussions with them, they have placed an emphasis on player safety and team performance. We are confident that the product we deliver will be an exceptionally consistent, top-of-the-line playing surface that will mimic the best natural playing surfaces in Major League Baseball today.”

The decision will make Texas the fourth of MLB’s 30 teams to use artificial turf. In October, the Arizona Diamondbacks announced its Chase Field ballpark will switch from natural to synthetic grass in a bid to address the challenges posed by the climate in Phoenix.

 Toronto’s Rogers Centre and Tampa Bay’s Tropicana Field have utilised artificial surfaces since they opened in 1989 and 1998, respectively.

Image: Texas Rangers