MIAMI -- The grass promises to be greener and more easily maintained in 2014 at Marlins Park.
In the upcoming months, the Marlins' front office will be tinkering with the roster in hopes of upgrading the players on the field. In the meantime, upper management already has plans to improve the actual playing surface for Season 3 at Marlins Park.
The 36,000-seat, retractable-roof ballpark will feature a grass called "paspalum" in both the infield and outfield. The full, thick grass offers a healthy shade of green. But the most important benefit for the switch to paspalum is its durability.
Paspalum is commonly used at golf courses located in beach areas, because the grass is able to withstand higher salt content in water. The Marlins were able to test paspalum on the infield last season, but in the outfield, a Bermuda grass called Tifway (or Tiff) 419 was installed.
"At the end of February, we're going to replace everything in the outfield with paspalum," Marlins executive vice president of operations and events Claude Delorme said. "The reason we didn't do it last year is because we couldn't get enough sod with paspalum."
By having paspalum solely in the infield, the Marlins were able to monitor how it held up to all conditions.
"I wanted to see was how the shade would impact it," Delorme said. "It will look good the whole year. Even when we decided to do some maintenance to the field, it just came back really quickly. There is more density to the sod. Based on that, and the reaction we've seen, we think that's going to be a nice improvement for next year."
Paspalum also has been used in the infield at Turner Field in Atlanta for a couple of seasons.
"Us and Atlanta were in the same boat, where we had to go infield and outfield with a different surface," Delorme said. "We wanted to see how paspalum would react in the infield for a whole year. After seeing the quality of the infield versus the outfield, we know it's going to be a welcome change."
From the players' standpoint, the paspalum is thicker and can be grown out a little longer, so the infield and outfield should play a bit slower.
Outfielders, especially, will see a difference. The Tiff 419 was a swifter surface. Sometimes that was an advantage for the Marlins, especially against teams not as familiar with the ballpark. Miami's outfielders knew they needed to hurry up to balls hit toward the gaps in anticipation of the faster hops.
"The thing with Tiff 419 Bermuda is you've got to cut if fairly short," Delorme said. "So you have a little bit more flexibility with paspalum to grow it probably an eighth of an inch more. It's a little bit slower surface than we saw last year."
Tiff 419 is the surface the Marlins used at their previous park, Sun Life Stadium.
In the first two years at Miami's new ballpark, the grounds crew has had its challenges preserving the grass. There is a constant balance of keeping the roof open to allow in sunlight to grow the grass, while also closing the roof for weather-related reasons.
In the park's inaugural season in 2012, a Bermuda grass called "Celebration" was used in the infield and outfield.
"It didn't react well," Delorme said.
Wear and tear on the field created brown splotches, and the field was sandy. The sunlight patterns also are an issue, as certain parts of the field are covered by shade. The team purchased grow lamps that are used to create artificial sunlight to the neglected areas.
"The grow lights we bought last year were helpful for the outfield areas where we get that constant shade in right field in April," Delorme said. "Then it shifts over to left field as the year progresses. The lamps are going to help us, as well, to keep the sod in great condition."