For all 70 years of the Grape Bowl’s existence, high school football teams have been playing on grass; and in recent years, very poor grass at that. The dimly lit Grape Bowl was showing its age, and the field along with it.
But in the Grape Bowl’s $3 million (and counting) renovation, that field was replaced by state-of-the-art FieldTurf, produced by FieldTurf USA, and an all-new lighting system was installed surrounding it. Those in attendance at Lodi High School’s football game against McNair High School tonight should be in for a much newer experience than they’re used to.
“They’ll see a marked improvement for the facility,” said Mike Reese, a supervisor with Lodi Parks and Recreation. “I expect great things both from comments made by spectators, and the Lodi High team.”
The field itself will present a much better image for spectators than the old grass did, especially with its freshly-painted bright white yard-lines and numbers. Fans will have a hard time finding a shadowy spot on the field no matter where they are seated.
“They’ve really increased the candle-power on the field,” Reese said of the lights. “It certainly is much brighter, and you have a much more reflective game surface.”
“It’s going to look just like daylight out there,” said Jack Fiori, chair of the Save the Grape Bowl campaign.
Aside from being powerful, the new lights are also energy efficient.
FieldTurf is already the playing surface for dozens of professional, collegiate and high school football fields, as well as soccer and city recreation teams nationwide. The turf has received rave reviews from NFL players: In a 2008 player survey conducted by the NFL Player’s Association, the FieldTurf in Lucas Oil Field (home of the Indianapolis Colts) was voted the best non-grass playing surface in the league. And in the 2002 and 2004 editions of the survey, the players voted the FieldTurf at Qwest Field (home of the Seattle Seahawks) as one of the top five playing fields overall.
“It actually looks, feels and plays like real grass, without the maintenance issues that you have with natural grass,” said Chip Namias, a spokesman for FieldTurf. “It’s as safe, if not safer, than real grass.”
“I think the players are going to be very pleased,” Fiori said. “The turf is probably the nicest turf they’re ever going to play on.”
Lodi High football coach Todd Dillon played on the old artificial turf in such places as Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh as a professional, and he said the turf of today is much improved.
FieldTurf consists of a base of silica sand and recycled rubber (called the infill), with monofilament fibers resembling blades of grass running through the base.
“It’s a lot like grass ... I don’t mind it,” said Dillon, who also touted the turf’s drainage ability. “In a typhoon it’s still going to drain. There’s not going to be any water standing on that field.”
But the field may also provide an unintended experience for the players. It’s a commonly held belief that players have increased speed on turf, which Dillon said is due to the fact that their cleats don’t dig in as deep as they would in dirt.
“It’s definitely a quicker game,” Dillon said. “I don’t think the turf is really going to matter (in the outcome of the game).”
Despite Dillon’s confidence, the turf could be a cause for worry amongst the Flame faithful: In Lodi’s previous matchup with McNair in September, the Eagles’ speedy running back Dalemaria Williams scored five times on big play after big play. His speed advantage could be increased thanks to the Grape Bowl’s artificial surface.
Bear Creek High School football coach Barbaro Perez also said he believes the turf gives McNair an edge in tonight’s game, citing the Eagles’ speed advantage.
Reese said he expects a large crowd to be in attendance for the game, and not all will be there for the pigskin. He said a lot of residents will likely come out just to see the renovations, which he called “impressive.”
Unfortunately for fans, there are still a couple of features of the Grape Bowl that remain incomplete. The Bowl still lacks a permanent concession stand, but there will be a temporary concession booth serving pizza and drinks tonight. There are also no permanent restrooms in the stadium and the previous restrooms have been removed, but rest assured, you won’t have to hold it all game long — portable toilets will be available.
Contact reporter Fernando Gallo at fernando@lodinews. com.