The University of Guelph and Toronto Blue Jays will collaborate on a research project to grow a natural turfgrass field in the Rogers Centre.

The $600,000 agreement was signed today by the University, and announced Thursday night by Blue Jays president Paul Beeston during a special event in Toronto.

Researchers will undertake a year-long intensive study to determine the impacts of growing natural grass in the Rogers Centre. The major league baseball team aims to install natural grass with a dirt infield by the start of the 2018 season.

“We are thrilled to partner with the Toronto Blue Jays on this exciting project,” said Rene Van Acker, associate dean (external relations) with the Ontario Agricultural College and a professor in the Department of Plant Agriculture.

“The challenge of developing a natural turfgrass field for the Rogers Centre is very unique, but we are confident that the combination of the Blue Jays’ commitment and our special expertise and research capacity will produce a facility that players and fans will love, and that will meet the challenges of the Rogers Centre as a world-class multi-use facility.”

He commended the Blue Jays staff and executives for their professionalism and dedication to the project. “Together we will make this happen.”

The project will be headed by U of G’s Eric Lyons, a professor in the Department of Plant Agriculture and turfgrass expert.

He will help determine the types of grass to grow in the Rogers Centre. The turfgrass will need to grow indoors with the stadium’s retractable roof closed, so this means figuring out which type of grass will do best under artificial light.

Researchers will also need to consider other issues related to growing grass indoors such as humidity levels, air circulation, and water, as well as ensuring that the grass will stand up to the wear and tear of a baseball season.

Lyons says he is up for the challenge.

“It’s the perfect project for me. I’m a scientist. I love baseball, I love sports and I love turfgrass.”

Lyons is expected to recommend the grass species to the Blue Jays in the spring of 2016. Blue Jays staff will determine next steps, including potential timing feasibility of renovations to accommodate ventilation, irrigation, drainage and cost.

“I am certain that we can do this — find suitable grass species and ways to ensure they will flourish inside the stadium,” Lyons said.

“The question will be whether it’s feasible for the Blue Jays to do it, and that’s what we’re going to help them answer.”

If the project proceeds after the initial year, candidate grasses will be grown on an Ontario sod farm and then tested in a simulated environment under artificial light. If all goes well, the natural turfgrass field would be installed in 2018 before the season opener.

Beeston was quoted as telling reporters Thursday night that the agreement is “pretty exciting from our point of view because we’ve had many discussions, but now it’s to the point where we’re actually going forward.”

Rich Moccia, Guelph’s associate vice-president research (strategic partnerships), added: “This is a great example of a private sector-academic partnership that brings technology out of the laboratories and puts it to use in a real-world application.”