The Syracuse Chiefs are taking a step backward this year, but it's a step to which all baseball fans look forward.
When the Chiefs take the field for the first time this year at 2:15 p.m. Thursday April 3, at Alliance Bank Stadium, they'll be playing on a brand new natural grass surface.
"Why anybody would want to play baseball on a carpet has always puzzled me," said Ron Hall a former high-school ballplayer who's now editor of Landscape Management magazine. "Baseball played on a synthetic surface is not really baseball in my mind. It's almost-baseball."
Ever since Syracuse's stadium first opened in 1997, its players have labored, often in vain, on artificial turf that looked and played more like a pool table that a baseball field.
"Cool green grass gives baseball much of its special charm," Hall said.
It also promises slower grounders for infielders and truer bounces in the outfield.
When contractors began removing the fake turf last September, Chiefs General Manager Johnny Simone pointed out the cement that lay underneath.
"You can see, when they rip it up, what's underneath it," Simone said. "Now you can understand why no one's wanted to dive for a ball in the last three years."
Simone hopes that real grass will raise the level of play and that should raise attendance.
The $850,000 turf project started in early-September, and workers began laying Kentucky Bluegrass sod in early-November. The Onondaga County Legislature had unanimously approved the installation of natural grass. The stadium is owned by Onondaga County.
Freshly mowed outfield
"The firm green cushion underfoot and the earthy-sweet smell of a freshly mowed baseball outfield connects me to my youth," said Hall who previously edited Athletic Turf magazine. "It keeps alive memories of school-age friends and pickup games in neighborhood parks."
County Executive Joanie Mahoney will throw out the ceremonial first pitch on Opening Day, April 3. Mahoney will become the third county executive to throw out a ceremonial first pitch on opening day. John Mulroy did it in 1983 while Nick Pirro threw out the pitch in 1985 and again in 1988.
The Chiefs, the Triple-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays, open their 2008 season next week against the Louisville Bats at ABS. Ticket prices range between $4 and $9; Parking costs $3; 474-7833.