UR baseball saying sayonara to grass January 05 2015

Tracy Woodson doesn’t like to rake, shovel mud or pull large, heavy tarps.

Woodson, the University of Richmond’s baseball coach and a former big-league infielder, would rather offer the Spiders defensive tips and throw batting practice.

There will be more time for that starting this year. UR’s baseball field is in the process of getting a synthetic surface, which will replace the Mother Earth that has comprised Pitt Field since March 1975.

There will be no grass. Dirt will only be on the pitcher’s mound. The cost of the new field, which will feature a large Spiders logo in center field and a new fence, is estimated to be $1 million.

“The field looked great over the summer when it was nice and green, but it was uneven and it didn’t drain,” Woodson said. “Our first four weekends at home (last season), I don’t think we played on a Friday. We’d get rain on Thursday and we couldn’t get the field ready.”

The synthetic surface will rest on a state-of-the-art drainage system. If all goes as planned, the Spiders will have home dates postponed only if rain is falling when the game is supposed to be under way.

Woodson says his players, who also have done much of the maintenance on their diamond, “are excited about (an artificial surface). I think they realize there is no more taking care of the field.”

Covering the mound when there’s a chance of precipitation is about the only upkeep that Pitt Field will require.

Of 13 Atlantic 10 Conference baseball programs, Richmond will be the seventh with an artificial surface.

Wake Forest and Duke are among the ACC programs with fake grass.

At the professional level, genuine turf still rules, for the most part. Major league organizations have a team of groundskeepers. On the minor league level, fields are cared for by a full-time groundskeeper with a helper or two, and front-office workers assist with tarp duty.

There has been no discussion of replacing The Diamond’s grass and dirt, on which the Richmond Flying Squirrels and VCU play home games, with an artificial surface, according to Steve Ruckman, the Squirrels director of field operations.

There are a handful of minor-league teams playing on synthetic fields. In many cases, those facilities are also used for sports other than baseball, such as lacrosse.

“I’m not against it, but as far as just keeping with the history of baseball and all that, personally I think baseball should be played on grass,” said Ruckman.

The Squirrels have considered laying down artificial surface in foul territory behind home plate, according to Ruckman. That’s a grass area he battles to keep healthy because of the steady foot traffic during the overlapping seasons of VCU and the Squirrels.

Chuck Domino, the chief executive manager of the Squirrels and a veteran of more than 30 years in the professional baseball business, said he doesn’t see the day coming when the majority of major or minor league teams play on artificial surfaces.

With maintenance staffs in pro ball, “There aren’t enough rainouts to make it worth the investment,” Domino said.

The Spiders start their season in mid-February with three games in Wilmington, N.C. If their new home field isn’t ready for preseason practice, Woodson said his team will work out at a local high school.

Richmond is scheduled to open at Pitt Field on Feb. 20 against Holy Cross. Woodson says he has his fingers crossed that January’s weather causes no installation delays.