Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Soul of America saved!—AstroTurf is dead!

National League moves from polypropylene to the leaves of grass.
March 9. 2005
This is more sports than science, but spring training for baseball has begun, so apologies to foreign readers. The really good news [we'll get to steroids some day] is that AstroTurf is dead, or almost. For the first time in almost 40 years, the National Baseball League will play every game on grass. God’s grass. Not Monsanto’s plastic. There are few things in the world more beautiful than walking into a baseball stadium and seeing the deep green grass glowing in the sun. No grass anywhere has the same color or is tended with the same care. The result of coming on blue-green plastic was akin to nausea. It wasn’t just esthetics; the game of baseball was changed profoundly by the use of AstroTurf, which made its first appearance in the Astrodome in Houston in 1966. The ball bounced higher and moved faster, and the same could probably be said for the players. That stadium was followed by a score of multipurpose stadia for use both by baseball and football teams, and in every case, they had to use plastics such as nylon, polypropylene or urethane because the grass couldn’t stand the wear and tear. Teams such as the St. Louis Cardinals actually designed their team for the stuff: speed over power, running over thinking. Players believed that artificial turf had a serious affect on their health and careers because it was hard and unyielding and destroyed skin and more important, knees. The research to support that notion is sketchy, but to hell with research. "If a horse won't eat it, I won't play on it," sniffed the Phillies' Richie Allen. (Football players actually have it much worse, with the surfaces clearly causing more concussions and really screwed-up toes.) The trend in baseball was reversed in 1992 with the opening of Camden Yards in Baltimore, still one of the best places to watch a baseball game in the world. Now, with the Expos abandoning Montreal for Washington, the last National League stadium with plastic turf is gone. The American League still has to put up with Toronto, Bloomfield, Minn. (easily the worst stadium in the Bigs), and Tampa, all with doomed domed buildings, ignoring the Natural Law that baseball is an outdoor sport. Now there remains only the abomination of the designated hitter, but that’s a story for another day. OK, back to science, but spring training just does things to me....

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