College football game rips apart Busch Stadium turf

David Brown
Big League Stew

For some reason, the St. Louis Cardinals allowed two college football teams to play at Busch Stadium on Saturday, and the game pitting Southern Illinois against Southeast Missouri did a number on the bluegrass turf. The Cardinals, who sit two games ahead of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the NL Central standings coming in, play six more games at home this week and, probably, two more the week after when the playoffs start Oct. 4 or 5.

So much for Busch being a baseball-only facility. In previous baseball seasons, the park has hosted concerts by the Dave Matthews Band and U2. An international soccer friendly happened earlier this season. What's a little American college football to top it off? Well, it was a lot to handle, considering the heavy rains St. Louis endured Thursday and Friday.

Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch covered the game and talked to groundskeeper Billy Findley and VP of stadium operations Joe Abernathy. Strauss's recap, predictably, described the damage with a stinging truth:

Kickoff was still an hour away when Findley noticed turf coming up as linemen went through drills. Even the kickers’ sideline ballet rubbed bare spots.

By the time Abernathy and Findley took their halftime tour, the turf looked as though it had staged a cattle drive followed by a rodeo capped by a monster truck pull. (In hindsight, such an all-inclusive extravaganza would have generated a wider revenue stream while exacting no more damage.) Findley at one point stooped to lift a 2-foot-long grass pelt. He didn’t tap it down or use it to replace damage elsewhere. He merely carried it with him as a souvenir from a worst-case scenario come true.

Sounds like Findley was carrying a body. At least the gridiron stayed away from the infield, for the most part. And Strauss shouldn't give the Cardinals any fresh ideas with the cattle drive/monster truck rodeo concept.

UPDATE: As of Monday morning, crews were still replacing turf at the ballpark:

Local TV news seems optimistic, at least.

Of all the times for Busch to host the first football game in its history, now wasn't the best moment for the baseball team, the primary tenant. But, with the Ohio Valley Conference schedule starting next week and running through the last week of November, apparently this was the best time for the schools.

But about that: As Strauss notes, total enrollment at SIU and SEMO is about 30,000, and game attendance at Busch was 14,618. Is all of that worth it to the Cardinals, just to make some money and drive their groundskeeper batty? Cardinals president Bill DeWitt said he expects the field to be in better shape than how the baseball team left it. Of course, that opinion is predicated on the team reshaping the field by importing 13 truckloads of sod from Colorado, where it has been flooding.

The players already are thinking about what kind of surface awaits them, with outfielder Matt Holliday telling the P-D:

“It’s something you think about — the condition of the field, how it’s going to play and what a football game would do to that. And you think about at this point of the season, being in a pennant chase and the timing of it. You don’t want anything to keep the field from being at its best.”

At least Team Fredbird could rely on the artificial surface at Busch II holding firm when the football Cardinals still played in St. Louis in the 1980s. If the Cardinals want to use new Busch for any old event, they might want to think of installing the newfangled fake stuff. Not that Dick Allen's horse could eat it. And it would just kill the Rally Squirrel.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this post said that U2 and the Dave Matthews Band played Busch this season. The concerts occurred in previous seasons. (H/T: @rmelosi)

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