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Yankees, Red Sox to play on artificial turf in London

In this Aug. 3, 2012, photo, Olympic Stadium

In this Aug. 3, 2012, photo, Olympic Stadium is seen during the Summer Olympics at Olympic Park in London. Next month the Yankees and the Red Sox will play each other on artificial turf for the first time in more than 2,200 games over 108 seasons.   Credit: AP/Jeff J Mitchell

The traditional rivalry between the Yankees and Red Sox will take a radical twist when they meet in London next month: They will play each other on artificial turf for the first time in more than 2,200 games over 108 seasons.

Major League Baseball has access to Olympic Stadium for 21 days before the games on June 29 and 30, the sport's first regular-season contests in Europe, and just five days after to clear out. The league concluded there was not enough time to install real grass.

Starting June 6, gravel will be placed over the covering protecting West Ham's grass soccer pitch and the running track that is a legacy from the 2012 Olympics. The artificial turf baseball field, similar to modern surfaces used by a few big-league clubs, will be installed atop that.

"It's the first Yankees-Red Sox game out of the country, so why not a lot of firsts?" Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia said. "I think it will be fine."

Instead, 141,913 square feet of FieldTurf Vertex will be transported by truck starting June 4 from the company's plant in Auchel, France, a little more than 150 miles (240 kilometers) to a storage facility outside London, according to Murray Cook, the sport's field consultant.

Clay for the pitcher's mound and home plate area comes from DuraEdge in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania. Turface Athletics near Chicago provides the soil conditioner, while mound tamps, infield drags and nail drags are from Beacon Athletics in Middleton, Wisconsin. The U.S. materials, including 345 tons of dirt in 18 40-foot containers, left Port Elizabeth, New Jersey, during the third week of April and arrived May 18 at Port of Felixstowe in Suffolk, about 95 miles (150 kilometers) southeast of London. Fence padding was manufactured at Covermaster outside Toronto and shipped from Montreal.

"We looked really hard at doing a natural grass system," Cook said. "We're going with a synthetic system, and it helps us a couple ways. It's a little more sustainable, because we're going back next year. If we went with a natural grass system, we'd have to bulldoze it all up, throw it away and then buy it again, build it all up, throw it away again."

Only three of the 30 major-league teams play on artificial surfaces — Toronto, Tampa Bay and Arizona. Rogers Centre in Toronto and Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida, never had had grass. Arizona switched this season from grass to turf, as will Texas when its new ballpark opens next spring.

Olympic Stadium, like the regular ballparks, will have full dirt infields rather than the square dirt patches popular during artificial turf's height — there was a high of 10 synthetic fields in the major leagues from 1977-78 and again from 1982-94.

"I'm assuming it's like Toronto's or Tampa's, so it shouldn't be an issue," Yankees manager Aaron Boone said.

Toronto has played on AstroTurf 3D Xtreme since 2016 and Tampa Bay on Shaw Sports Turf since 2017. Arizona switched from grass to Shaw Sports B1K this year, and Texas will use Shaw Sports Turf when it moves into new Globe Life Field next year.

"If we had never played on turf, it would be different, but we've played on turf," Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts said.

The Yankees and Red Sox have played 2,196 times during the regular season, with four more games at Yankee Stadium from May 30 to June 2. The Yankees hold a 1,191-991 edge with 14 ties, plus a 12-11 advantage in postseason games.

Boston is the home team for both games in London, but the Yankees and Red Sox both will wear their white home uniforms. When the Yankees last played overseas in an opening two-game series at the Tokyo Dome in 2004, they wore home pinstripes and the then-Devil Rays wore road grays, even though Tampa Bay was the home team and batted last.

Foul poles, a batter's eye, a backstop and fencing will be erected, along with two dugouts — Red Sox on the first base side and the Yankees on third. Temporary clubhouses will be built on the warmup track under the stands — the soccer locker rooms are too small — along with batting cages. Because holes cannot be made in the running track, weights will secure the fences, similar to what was installed when the Dodgers and Diamondbacks played in 2014 at the Sydney Cricket Ground in Australia.

Cook helped convert The Oval, a London cricket ground opened in 1845, for games between Red Sox and Mets minor leaguers in October 1993 — the first of two was rained out.

Olympic Stadium also will be the site of major-league games in 2020 — a series between the Cubs and Cardinals is the leading candidate.

"This way we've got a synthetic turf system that's got two games on this year, two games on it next year," Cook said. "And then the commissioner can do what he wants to do with the system, whether he wants to have another event somewhere, sell it or donate it or whatever they want to do."

Field dimensions will be 330 feet down each foul line, but just 385 feet to center with a 16-foot wall.

"We've done all the home run trajectory studies," Cook said. "We get comparable distances."

Red Sox leftfielder Andrew Benintendi figured the best way for Boston pitchers to keep the Yankees from hitting home runs.

"Just got to keep the ball on the ground, I guess," he said.


This story has been corrected to delete references to Murray Cook being a general manager.

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