Road warriors: Delay in turf installation project leaves Valpo baseball team without a home field
Updated: Apr 10
After having no baseball season last spring due to COVID, Valparaiso will be playing all of its 2021 schedule on the road.
A construction project that includes installation of synthetic turf on the baseball and softball fields was originally slated to be done in May, but is now not expected to be complete until after the season is over.
"It's a horrible situation for these seniors who didn't play last year and now we're not going to play on our home field this year," Vikings baseball coach Todd Evans said. "In the fall, like in November, it was really moving, but the crew got COVID, so there were two weeks when the machines didn't move and that put us behind. They're telling us right now, beginning or middle of June. We're having beautiful weather, so we're getting a lot done. It just might not be enough. There's an outside chance maybe. If it happens, great, they will be thrilled because I have 14 seniors, but we're not expecting it."
As it stands, the Vikings will make 26 bus trips in the regular season. It's currently slated to play its final two games at Valparaiso University.
"(VU) coach (Brian) Schmack is going to help us out and we'll have our senior night there. Everything else is away," Evans said. "We know it and we're not going to make it an excuse. Our motto this season is Road Warriors, so we're just going to go to battle. Most of the fields around here are beautiful ball parks. We're just getting on a bus before we go. Maybe next year everyone will come to our place and we won't have to leave."
Valpo's travels are exacerbated by a bus schedule that doesn't allow them to leave the campus until 4 p.m., when all the after-school routes have been completed. As a result, their first two games both started over 45 minutes later than the scheduled 4:30 start.
"We don't have enough bus drivers to circle back and get us," Evans said. "We've got four small buses, but they're out doing other stuff until whenever. I'm trying to come up with something, maybe even get my CDL."
Back in November, Evans was optimistic about the chances to get on the new field this spring, but the time frame didn't allow for any unplanned delays.
"Unless there's a really mild winter, a prolonged fall, I don't foresee playing on it the beginning of the season, but we should get on it before the end," he said at the time. "The dugouts have already been poured. It's going to be a really nice facility. I can't see another facility like it around here besides a place like Lake Central. It's something the baseball players, the athletes around here, will be really proud of."
The projects weren't even a consideration until August, Evans said, the result of the pool project coming in well under budget.
"That was really good planning on (former Superintendent) Dr. (Ric) Frataccia's part," he said. "It allowed us to not only do the west campus, but also a new weight room and an athletic training area where the old pool was. Once they had an idea what was left over, those committees were put together."
The baseball field was approved for renovation in August with the installation of turf okayed in October. In the process, Evans reached out to the baseball coaches at the local schools that have turf (Lake Central and Munster), as well as downstate Mooresville.
"We used to go down there for a tournament," he said. "My brother (Chad) played with their coach at PNC. I just asked for tips here and there, what would you do different? do the same? There's only like 10, 12 in the state. It was an exciting process."
Turf fields are a long-term investment, an up front expense that pays for itself over years in the savings of maintenance and materials, and it eliminates postponements resulting from unplayable fields.
"It increases the amount of time you put in on the field," Evans said. "You can be much more efficient. We don't have to go somewhere else and play doubleheaders because of weather. We can just put a fan out there and let it dry. It's a utility field in the fall (for) soccer, band, P.E. There's going to be lights, too, so that expands the amount of time you can be on it, and now there's a chance maybe we can get a sectional."
The field, when complete, will be 100 percent turf, including the pitching mound, batter's box and base areas. It will have a mowed lines effect with alternating shades of green and the outfield blades will be longer than the infield.
"I dragged my last infield in the fall," Evans said. "I'll have to find something else to do. You just brush up the bristles, sprinkle in a little rubber around the batter's box and pitcher's mound. It keeps it puffed up. The groomer comes with the field. We got about eight to years out of (our football field)."
As part of the renovation, home plate is being moved back 15 to 20 feet to help with foul balls and to extend the distance, previously a modest 300 feet, to the left field fence. The outfield boundaries will be also curved rather than squared off to conform to a parking lot, as it was before.
"I'm looking forward to it," Evans said. "The ball moves faster. Gappers get to the fence that were doubles are now triples. Hard-hit singles are now doubles. Line drives can bounce over your head. It really becomes a home field advantage because you know how the ball's going to react. (The kids) aren't as hyped as I am. I'm pretty excited. I'm not going anywhere now."
Valpo's softball is also getting a turf field, but isn't having to travel since its current diamond is still in use.
"They weren't renovating our field, they were building a new one," coach Tracy Corneil said. "We're just playing on our old field, biding our time. That will be our JV field in the future. I really thought it would be nice for our senior class, but it's going to be great in the future. I'm excited for Valpo softball."
An image from about a month ago shows the progress of Valparaiso's High School field renovation project, which will include the installation of synthetic turf. The complex is slated to be completed by mid-June, so the baseball team is playing all of its games this spring away from home. (Photo courtesy of @VVikingbaseball)