High schools in the Greater Cleveland area have found this spring to be particularly challenging to baseball schedules, but those with synthetic turf fields have fared significantly better when hosting games and practices.
As reported by The News-Herald in Willoughby, two area teams — Gilmour and Hawken — have all-turf baseball fields. Andrews Osborne will join the Lancers and Hawks when its field is completed this summer. Two other schools — University and West Geauga — have turf infields with grass outfields. The Wolverines have had it in place since 2016, and the turf for the Preppers is in its second season.
Gilmour athletic director Sean O’Toole knew that once the Lancers had finished installing their field in 2018, they would be able to use it in almost every weather condition.
“Being able to get games in on rainy days is a big plus,” O’Toole told The News-Herald. “We also can get out and have practice on the field when there is just a light sprinkle of rain and not have to be inside. But the biggest advantage has to be the total number of games that we can get in. You look at our total of games that we’ve gotten in compared to others. Yes, we play a lot of home games. But it’s helpful for the kids so that they can get their season in.”
The four teams with full or partial turf fields have seen only a small handful of home games postponed or canceled. Hawken and Gilmour have only had two and three, respectively. University has seen just two home games postponed or canceled, while West Geauga is the outlier with six.
“In 2020, an enthusiastic group of US baseball families helped spearhead an effort to enhance our varsity baseball field,” University athletic director Sean McDonnell told The News-Herald. “The project not only provided our program with an amazing turf infield. It also improved our outfield drainage while updating the backstop and outfield fence. We have been able to host significantly more varsity and JV games since the upgrade, providing our players with a more fulfilling baseball experience.”
However, that leaves 24 teams that have all-grass fields in the coverage area. On average, teams have had between six to nine games postponed, with Fairport, Geneva and Harvey reaching double digits for total games affected by weather.
One of those schools with a grass baseball field is Mentor. It recently built an all-turf softball field on the school grounds. Athletic director Jeff Cassella and the Cardinals are already seeing the benefits of the turf field over the grass of old.
“Our softball teams played more games than most schools because of our field,” Cassella told The News-Herald. “This spring was unusual with the weather, so having the turf was a benefit because not so much for games but we were able to constantly practice outside on the field as well.”
While the cost to build a new field, whether turf or grass, is a tough decision, the upkeep is where things drastically change. According to sportsvenuecalculator.com, a natural grass field costs between $18,000 to $44,000 to maintain, while a turf field is $6,000 to $10,000.
“Our field gets groomed after a certain number of innings are played on it,” said O’Toole. “Our maintenance team along with players and coaches reseed the mound and the batter’s box. After the season we do usually have to replace the landing spot where the pitcher’s foot comes down. Other than that, just trying to keep the weeds from coming through from underneath, it’s a really simple upkeep.”
All the athletic directors echoed the same sentiment, the most important thing for them is having the chance to get the players to have a full season. While none of the schools that currently don’t have turf are planning to install turf, don’t be surprised if more and more turf baseball fields pop up in the coming seasons.
“We are currently looking at options for renovation to the baseball stadium or the construction of another field, but plans have not been finalized,” said Cassella. “I imagine it could be significant as really the only maintenance is grooming the field occasionally. We don’t spend money on field paint and time for the maintenance crew.”