First strips of grass set in place at Marlins Park

First strips of grass set in place at Marlins Park

MIAMI -- At last, the Marlins' field of dreams has become a reality.

Marlins Park, closing in on being 97 percent completed, now features a playing surface. The first strips of grass were set in place on Thursday morning, and the entire field will be covered within three days.

"Today is the day that this ballpark comes to life," Marlins president David Samson told a gathering of reporters. "More than the JumboTron or the seats, the one thing you need to play baseball, you need grass. And you need basepaths. Today, we have it."

The stadium, with a capacity of 37,000, will feature a Bermuda grass called Celebration, which is known for being very shade resistant. It's the same surface that the Marlins play on at their Spring Training complex, Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Fla.

Each roll is 50 feet long and four feet wide. It will take approximately 110,000 square feet of turf to cover the entire surface.

The first strips of sod were put in place just 62 days before the Marlins open the MLB season against the defending World Series champion Cardinals on April 4 in Miami.

Construction on Marlins Park began in July 2009, and the organization takes pride in the fact the project remains on time and on budget.

"We are 62 days away from delivering the first ever ballpark with not a dollar of over-runs," Samson said. "We said it from the beginning, and we have done it."

To combat the stifling South Florida heat and unpredictable rains, the team insisted that building a ballpark with a roof was necessary. The team expects to leave the roof shut for more than 80 percent of its games. But when a game isn't going on, the roof will remain open.

"The roof will stay open to let the grass grow until Opening Night," Samson said. "The interesting part is, we need the sun and the rain to get this Bermuda grass, which is called Celebration, to get three-quarters of an inch thick. That is a level we never attained in the history of the Marlins before, and we're going to get it here."

Their previous home, Sun Life Stadium, also housed the Miami Dolphins and Miami Hurricanes football teams. Because it was a multi-sports facility, the grass was kept short, and it made the surface one of the fastest in the big leagues.

The Marlins anticipate the taller grass will slow down some ground balls and bunts, which should benefit speedsters like Jose Reyes and Emilio Bonifacio.

Marlins Park is being built to reflect the color and diversity of Miami. The stadium has a fountain-like home run feature, a pool area, as well as two aquariums behind home plate.

"When we started building, we said, 'You couldn't turn around without feeling you are in Miami,'" Samson said. "You feel you are in Miami everywhere."

In two to three weeks, fish will be added to the aquariums, which are protected by shatterproof glass. Recently, the team tested the strength of the glass against a thrown baseball. All-Star first baseman Gaby Sanchez was invited to the ballpark, and he was asked to fire a baseball at close range against the aquariums. The throws didn't leave a scratch.

"When I see the aquariums being installed, and the home run feature, I realize that we're 62 days away," Samson said. "Opening Night is upon us. Everybody has come together and worked together so well."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.