When you install a turf system in a brand new stadium, questions of whether or not the players will end up liking it has to be near the top of concerns for the team’s front office staff. Luckily for the Class A Advanced Fredericksburg Nationals, who played host to the
When you install a turf system in a brand new stadium, questions of whether or not the players will end up liking it has to be near the top of concerns for the team’s front office staff. Luckily for the Class A Advanced Fredericksburg Nationals, who played host to the big league Nationals' alternate training site, their new eco-friendly turf passed with flying colors.
“They loved it, every guy that we talked to said,” said Eliot Williams, the FredNats' director of stadium operations. “Some of the guys were former Major Leaguers -- they played on it before, they've been around it before. Some of their Spring Training facilities do have the turf, but it's nothing like ours, and they all loved it.”
This isn’t old-school turf like the ones at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium or St. Louis’ old Busch Stadium. Those surfaces were brutal to play on during the summer, with temperatures regularly reaching triple digits. What makes the turf at the new Fredericksburg ballpark different are the materials used. Instead of the black rubber pellets that were used back in the day, this turf filler consists of shaved coconut husks and sand.
“It actually keeps the field a little bit cooler than most other artificial turfs, which is obviously a really big help to some of these guys when it's 120, 130 degrees down on that field,” FredNats general manager Nick Hall said.
As Hall put it, the genesis of installing the eco-friendly turf was the relationship the team built within the Fredericksburg community and commitments made by city officials.
“One of the biggest allures to the city of Fredericksburg was that the city really got on board with having us out here, to the point that they have a pretty prominent concert series that's been here for years,” he said. “And, essentially, their point to us was, 'Hey, if you guys come on out here, we will just hand the entire content series over to you guys inside the stadium.'”
Check out any big league field after a concert has been held there and it can look pretty rough, especially with all of the foot traffic occurring during the event, not to mention the weight of the stage.
“It was really just a no-brainer for us to find some sort of a way to go with synthetic,” Hall said.
Yet it is a baseball stadium and the comfort of the players is of utmost importance. Hall and his staff took their task extremely seriously.
“When we were going through the process of actually putting it all together, one of the biggest things was kind of communicating with them on their biggest things that were important to them was that they wanted no equipment changes,” Hall said. “So they wanted to be able to use the same metal spikes they use for all of their hundred or some odd other games. So that played a big part into kind of which direction, and what we were looking at, as far as the exact kind.”
Williams described the players’ reaction as “over the moon,” especially when inclement weather would occasionally pop up.
“The crazy thing about it was, when it would rain, you wouldn't even notice,” he said. “They could keep on playing. They could keep on going, because you don't have to really worry about the sod, tearing it up, or anything like that. It was cool for us to get a trial run with these guys who would potentially play for the Nats relatively soon, get them to test it out.”
Because of the nature of the turf, it has some economic benefits. There's no need for fertilizer or to water it, nor does the team have to spend money on chemicals. Still, the hours needed to keep it looking as good as new are the same.
“We have to sanitize it a few times per year,” Hall said. “However, the biggest thing, and when I say man hours are still the same when, in a professional field, it gets cut every single day; well, for us, that process of driving a mower for us is driving essentially a tractor with a comb behind it. We comb the field every single day.”
The field isn’t the only environmental feature at the new park. The Nats have installed LED lights throughout the facility that are considered green-friendly and the lights in the parking lot are solar-powered.
“Being green and being eco-friendly was a really huge focus of ours along with the focus of being local, of the stadium during the entire planning and build process,” Hall said.
The turf, however, is the highlight of the new stadium and, according to Hall, fans will love the look of it.
“It's always going to look perfect,” he said.
Brian Stultz is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @brianjstultz.