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Always ready for play: Artificial turf eases field, weather issues for baseball, softball

VALPARAISO — Picture, if you will, Schreiber Field, only with artificial turf.

Traditionalists might scoff at the idea, but amid another miserable spring of rain, cold and schedule changes, La Porte coach Scott Upp is all in.

“Anybody north of Indianapolis should have turf,” Upp said after Wednesday’s game at Valparaiso. “100 percent. The more you see it and the spring we’ve had this year, like today, we wouldn’t have played, it was wet to start with. It just makes sense. Prior to (Tuesday’s game), we hadn’t been on our field for two weeks. (Valpo coach Todd Evans is) on his field every day, rain or shine. This is awesome.”

Valpo christened its new facility this week and while coaches all over the Region are raking, dragging, pumping and tarping, Evans is simply smiling.

“There’s not one bit of stress for me,” Evans said. “It rained all day and I had no worries. Nothing.”

At the same time Valpo and La Porte had varsity and JV baseball games at the field, Valpo was playing JV-varsity contests at the nearby softball field, which is also turfed. Last Saturday, La Porte’s home doubleheader was moved to Logansport, which has turf, since Schreiber Field was wet.

“We have the field, let’s use it,” Evans said. “It’s more about making sure we have umpires, ticket takers, all those other cogs that are turning. Let’s take advantage of it.”

Lake Central became the first local school to turf its diamonds several years ago. Munster has a turf infield with a grass outfield. Crown Point appears to be the next school with plans to put in turf and Chesterton is at least considering it, depending on funding availability.

“I would love the opportunity,” Upp said. “Logansport’s got a beautiful stadium. I don’t know how they’re doing it, but there are some smaller schools turfing their fields. Everybody’s thought process is turf the football field. Why? Football, you can play when it’s snowing, raining, cold. Baseball, the field conditions tell you whether you can play.

La Porte has turf at Kiwanis Field, which the baseball team occasionally uses for practice, and at Kesling.

“When they put the football field in, they did come over and give us a quote. I didn’t hear anything since then,” Upp said.

The turf surface and base has a built-in drainage system that filters the water through much more readily, in contrast to natural grass and dirt.

“If it was to rain, the ball’s obviously going to get wet, but other than that, give it about 20 minutes, it’s fairly dry,” Evans said. “We can go right at it.”

Field dimensions at Valpo were adjusted with the plate moved back 10 feet. The outfield fences, which are mobile sections, are set at 315 feet down the left field line, 395 to straight-away center, and 330 in right field.

“They wanted to be able to have a full soccer field,” Evans said. “Since we have a permament mound, if you go back that way, they have blue tick marks. That is the far west side of what would be a full soccer field. They put chalk paint down in the fall and it’s a whole football field. Each (turf) section is five yards. We’re out here once if not twice a week.”

While the turf all but eliminates bad hops that come with dirt and grass, the ball does move faster and outfielders have to be aware of higher bounces.

“The biggest thing we have to make sure with outfielders is if you can’t get it, you’ve got to make sure you give room for the bounce,” Evans said. “You have to get back or it’s going to bounce over your head. On a wet (regular) field, it’s going to stay right there. Guys can slide right over the bag, too.”

That said, Upp would be gladly deal with the adjustments.

“The first time playing here, it’s hard to get a gauge compared to what we’re used to,” he said. “You just have to be aware of it. It’s going to roll a lot further. You’ve just to got get yourself acclimated. There is a difference on ground balls, there’s no question about that. I’m sure anybody who would get that opportunity would do whatever it takes. They would be crazy not to.”

Valparaiso is the second Region high school with fully-turfed fields for baseball and softball.

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