All Rights Reserved
Mud isn't kind to softball players.
It clings to cleats, stains clothes and leads to unsightly -- and potentially dangerous -- slips and slides.
"Nobody wants to play in mud," said Jeff Egger, a longtime recreational player from the Clintonville neighborhood.
Which explains why the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department has always avoided hosting a spring softball league.
Until this year.
With Lou Berliner Park featuring turf on 11 of its 31 fields, the department has organized its first spring recreational softball league.
"The only reason we're able to offer it is that we have the artificial turf," said Terri Leist, assistant director of the department.
Otherwise, softball teams would probably fight a losing battle with Mother Nature.
"In April," Leist said, "you never know in Ohio what kind of weather you're going to get."
The spring season, to begin on March 27, will last four weeks -- five for teams in the playoffs.
Eighty-two teams had signed up by Friday afternoon, with others expected to join before registration closes at 10 a.m. next Monday.
Summer softball attracts hundreds of teams, with games at parks throughout the city.
The spring teams will be limited to the turf fields at Berliner, off Greenlawn Avenue.
The nonprofit Berliner Action Team for Sports, or BATS, is footing the $1.2 million cost of the field conversions -- in part with money raised from concessions at games.
The group, founded in the mid-1980s, is dedicated to improving the sports facilities of the parks department.
Spring softball will reap some money for the department, as each team pays $250.
Yet the revenue, Leist said, isn't the only impetus for the league.
"We really believe that the majority of teams that will play in this will use it as a way to get themselves warmed up for the summer season," she said.
"It gets people out quicker and gets people ready for the summertime softball," the 35-year-old corrections officer said.
The turf conversions started several years ago.
Although construction continues on three of the 11 fields, crews hope to finish in time for opening day.
"We might even be pushing snow off . . . in order to get them ready," said Ryan DeMay, head groundskeeper at Berliner -- who plans to play in the spring league with co-workers.
The turfing process begins with excavation.
Crews dig the infields before laying stone, followed by the turf itself -- carpet woven with polyester yarn (the "grass"), plus a mix of sand and rubber.
Although the turf covers only the infield, DeMay said, the grass outfields are designed
to handle plenty of water.
"I think most people will say that 80 to 90 percent of the game is played on the infield, anyway, so that's kind of where our focus is," he said.
Visually, the turf provides welcome pops of color: golf-course green and brick red.
"It's been a long winter," DeMay said. "People don't want to come out to bleak-looking yellow or brown grass."