Pitt Field is getting a makeover, but its transformation will not be complete before Richmond baseball’s home opener on Feb. 20.
The process of replacing the 40-year-old field’s natural grass with synthetic turf began in October, but the project was delayed because of winter weather.
As a result, the first four home games of the season have been rescheduled. The three-game series against Holy Cross on Feb. 20-22 will be played at Deep Run High School, and the Norfolk State game will be held at Shepherd Stadium in Colonial Heights on Feb. 25, according to Richmond Athletics.
Eleven of the Spiders’ first 16 games are away, making the delay in the field’s readiness more manageable to work around. The team will begin a 13-game home stand March 13, which could be a benefit in padding its record as it transitions into conference play. But if the field is still not game-ready at that point, it could be detrimental not only on the field but also in the classroom.
The players planned their academic schedules under the assumption the field would be finished, but having to drive 20-30 minutes away to their “home” field could require many of them to miss classes for weekday games, senior pitcher Ryan Cook said.
For the renovations to proceed the ground must be dry, said David Walsh, deputy athletic director. When the athletic department started the process, the planners acknowledged that beginning outdoor renovations in the rainy winter months could impact the finish date of the field, Walsh said.
“We’ve basically been hoping for the best, but preparing for it to extend into the season,” Walsh said.
The players are excited about the new field, which will be entirely synthetic turf with the exception of the dirt pitcher’s mound, though they are disappointed that it won’t be ready in time for their first game. “It’s extremely frustrating from our standpoint,” senior pitcher Zak Sterling said. “Obviously we don’t know the logistics of what takes place behind the scenes, but we’re going to have to open at a local high school and quite frankly that’s not fair.
“We’re three days away from our first game and we haven’t played on a real field once. We haven’t played with a left fielder. The pitchers haven’t pitched off dirt. That’s not fair,” Sterling said. “It reminds me of 'The Sandlot,' playing without a field.”
Despite the team’s inability to practice on its home field, junior third-baseman Matt Dacey did not expect there would be a long adjustment period as players acclimate to the new surface. Six of the 13 baseball teams in the Atlantic 10 conference already have turf fields, and the Richmond team has been practicing on a turf intramural field.
The levelness of the baseball field and its poor drainage system were factors that ultimately led to the $1 million renovation, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Last season, the team was forced to cancel four games and play four doubleheaders because of weather. This year, with the new field’s improved drainage system, games can be played 20 minutes after the rain stops, which will ideally lead to fewer schedule disruptions, head coach Tracy Woodson said.
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The original Pitt Field was not level, making the way a ball would bounce unpredictable when it hit the ground. Turf creates ideal playing conditions so each ground ball will bounce as expected, which should reduce the number of errors and make the team better defensively. “We’re all happy we don’t have to worry about catching a ground ball in the teeth at any point,” Dacey said.
Despite the advantages of switching from natural to artificial surface, many of the players will miss the old-fashioned grass field. “It will be a little nostalgic walking out to the batter’s box and having it not be dirt,” Dacey said. “I think we’ll all miss the old Pitt Field, but it will be nice having a facility that’s maintenance-free. And it will definitely be the nicest looking field in the A-10.”
The revamped field will feature a new outfield wall and a Spiders logo on the outfield turf, which will stay green all year long.
“The campus is beautiful, but I think the baseball field and how it looked at times was an eyesore,” Woodson said. “Listen, I’m a traditionalist. I like grass, but we didn’t have a good field. When people see this and what it looks like, even the traditionalists are going to say, ‘Holy crap, this looks good.’”
The athletic department’s goal was not only to enhance the aesthetics of the facility, but also to show the commitment to making baseball a successful program, Walsh said. His sentiment was echoed by Woodson.
“We’d love to have it right now to practice on, but we’re looking forward to having it,” Woodson said. “It changes the face of the program really. It’s something new and people can see that something is going on here special. Hopefully, we’ll play well to go along with that and get people excited.”
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