The floor of the Edward Jones Dome has seen all sorts of things over the years, from pro football to monster trucks to religious meetings to dancing. On Wednesday, it got something it had never had before.
Real grass. Not the plastic grass that the Rams have played on, but real live – for the time being – Kentucky bluegrass, trucked in from Columbia, Ill. The grass is there for a few days to accommodate the needs of European soccer clubs Real Madrid and Inter Milan, which will play a friendly match at the Dome on Saturday, after which the grass will go back to Columbia and revel in its brief moment in the spotlight before being plowed back into the ground. That’s how fame works.
Soccer clubs like Real Madrid and Inter, filled with rosters of high-priced talent, don’t play on hard artificial surfaces, so to get a game like this, the Dome and Relevent, the game’s promoter, had to agree to put in a real grass surface, which, withou t getting into specifics, isn’t cheap. (“Significant, but not prohibitive,” is how Dome general manager Marty Brooks put it.) At about 30 cents a square foot, the price tag goes up quickly when you have to acquire 102,400 square feet of it to cover the Dome floor.
Watching grass grow is renowned for being uninteresting – come to think of it, so is writing about it – but watching grass being installed has the excitements of semis and forklifts and a device called an installer which, as you might have guessed, installs the grass, unrolling the big rolls of sod. (“Big rolls” is a technical term, said Paul Schinner of The Motz Group, the Cincinnati firm that was doing the installation.) Installing also goes a lot quicker, with about an eighth of the Dome’s floor having gone from dull gray to a lush green by early afternoon Wednesday. (Installation will probably go until late afternoon today.)
The process began at about 4 a.m Wednesday, with the sod, w hich comes with about 1½ inches of dirt, being harvested and rolled up at Heartland Turf Farms in Columbia, being loaded on trucks, and driven over to the Dome. Each roll is 4 feet wide and about 40 feet long and weighs about 2,500 pounds, depending on the moisture. Schinner figured that it was just about an hour for the grass to go from being on a farm in Illinois to being on the floor at the Dome.
It takes about 9½ rolls to go from one end of the Dome floor to the other, and it was expected to take about 40 truck loads. Once the grass gets unrolled, workers descend on it with rakes and blades and shovels to make everything fit together. Basically, it’s the same as installing an outdoor field “except that we’d be watering the heck out of it,” Schinner said.
Since plastic grass doesn’t need water, the Dome doesn’t have an irrigation system or adequate drainage, and since the Dome has a roof, there’s precious little natural light in the building, a ll of which makes it a place not conducive to effective grass growing. So the Dome and Relevent were working with a fairly narrow window for installation. If they put the grass in too soon, by game time Saturday, they could have a wonderfully brown playing surface. (Though it will get lightly watered in the meantime, the grass is, let’s face it, not getting any better.) Everyone involved seems confident that by Saturday, the grass should still more than meet the needs of the teams.
Schinner’s firm usually builds fields outdoors, and this is the second time it has done one indoors. A week ago, it put grass into Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis for another game put on by Relevant, and that field did well. (Schinner said the one lesson learned in Indy was to go with a thicker layer of dirt.) American stadiums have been putting grass indoors since a surface was put in the Pontiac (Mich.) Silverdome for the World Cup in 1994, and there’s been a flurry of it lately, w ith mixed results. During the recent CONCACAF Gold Cup tournament, a grass field was put down on top of the turf at the Dallas Cowboys stadium, and that field was criticized for being rock hard. A temporary grass field in Seattle for a U.S. World Cup qualifying match was at times too slippery. Impromptu tests at the Dome on Wednesday showed the grass to be soft enough.
“It’s very challenging,” Brooks said Wednesday, occasionally having to get out of the way of a forklift moving grass, “but I have total confidence. I can’t believe how terrific it looks. I saw some pictures of the set up (in Dallas) and the big pile of green sand they had and I called (Relevent) and said, we don’t want to have those issues, and they assured us it’s a different process and we’re not going to experience the same thing. … It’s interesting to see real grass. It’s nice seeing real grass.”
Yes, it is. Grass at the Dome can never be a permanent thing, but this may not be the last time it’s put in. As of Wednesday, about 52,000 tickets had been sold for the game, which still leaves about 15,000 seats available but still means a huge crowd. Real Madrid beat Chelsea 3-1 Wednesday night in Miami in the finals of the International Champions Cup tournament and will arrive in St. Louis today. If promoters keep getting those kinds of crowds here, they’ll find watching grass grow to be very exciting.Real Madrid vs. Inter Milan
Saturday, 1 p.m.
Edward Jones Dome
TV: ESPN Deportes, ESPN3.com
Tickets at Edward Jones box office and Ticketmaster.