Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Invention of the Decade

Anyone remember that month when everyone was talking about this big old invention that was going to change the way life was going to be forever? Then, amid all the hype, the so-called revolutionary invention happened to be a stupid scooter? Well, that was this decade. So was the invention of the HDTV and the advent of How Youz Doin Baseball, which probably enhanced the way you followed sports forever. However, two events this week--the induction of Andre Dawson into the Hall of Fame and last weekend's Wes Welker ACL/MCL blowout--furthered my theory that the most important technological innovation in the past decade was:

FieldTurf.

While FieldTurf is not perfect, and while it should not be used everywhere, the surface is now widespread in Major League Baseball, the NFL, and even in soccer. They have also installed FieldTurf at lower levels, changing many minor league, college, and high school sports.

The first improvement brought along by FieldTurf is the phasing out of AstroTurf. I say this today because AstroTurf is credited with the downfall of Andre Dawson's career, and probably a big reason it took him fourteen years to get into the Hall of Fame. Apparently playing ten-plus years on pavement covered by carpet is a bad thing for an outfielder's knees. When the Hawk went to Chicago, they say his career was rejuvenated, but anyone who remembers him in Boston in 1993 knows that the rejuvenation was short-lived. With FieldTurf, who knows? He might have been an elite baserunner and defensive player for a lot longer. Put that along with his bat and he could have been like Barry Bonds before the freaky steroids transformation. A sure-fire first ballot guy. Although it's debatable if he deserved it with the fact that he did play on AstroTurf, it's nice to see him in.

The second big thing this week that makes the invention of FieldTurf so important is the Wes Welker injury. A few years ago, you may remember a really messy Patriots game at Gillette Stadium, when the field didn't recover from a rain storm two days before. The conditions took away from the quality of play so much that they just stripped the stadium and put FieldTurf on it the next week.

Not to say that the grass in Houston last weekend was anything close to that this weekend, but on the play where Wes Welker tried to cut and avoid a tackle, he slipped on the grass and blew out his knee. Not to say that the same thing wouldn't have happened on FieldTurf, but it's very possible.

I still believe grass has a very good place in sports. Specifically in baseball, I think natural grass is the best way to go. Despite the best efforts by TBS, FOX, and Allan Selig, baseball isn't played in the cold/snowy/rainy season, and poor grass conditions really only wreak havoc with baseball games played in Portland, ME. But if some owners insist that baseball games should be played in a dome or on an artificial surface, FieldTurf is a great way to go. Ten years ago, it didn't exist and players like Andre Dawson were shortening their careers by playing the outfield on cement covered with a green carpet. As great as HDTV has been, especially the way it has revolutionized watching hockey on television, the biggest change in sports in the 2000s was FieldTurf.

1 comment:

TimC said...

I think FieldTurf also marked the continuation of another trend in sports (particularly at the professional level) and one that I think is a very negative thing. I am referring to the experience of a sporting event becoming more manufactured.

Think about some of the things that have changed in sports over the last few years. In baseball, players have broken records and signed massive contracts on the strength of their fake muscles. It is impossible to attend a basketball game without garbage music blaring on the jumbotron throughout the game like a party in a freshman double in Dana. Professional ice hockey is played in half-interested cities where ice was previously found only in drinks. And of course, as the importance of regular season contests has decreased with more playoff spots being created, seasons increasing in length, and teams sitting starters rather than trying to be great, ticket prices have rocketed through the roof as if to suggest these games now mean so much more.

And hey, great news, FieldTurf has made it convenient for the field to be fake, too. Now, I am not entirely against the idea; DV made many good points about how it has replaced the abomination that was Astroturf and I agree that a good, fake field of grass is far better than a poorly maintained, real field of grass. It certainly has its place in today's sporting world. But I am very much against the trend of manufacturing enthusiasm, authenticity, and greatness. Here's to hoping the next decade can bring back those very things that make sports great.