Galey Colosimo, principal of Juan Diego Catholic High School in Draper, Utah, was tired of seeing his baseball coaches pull double-duty as field maintenance specialists. “When I would walk out and watch our baseball coaches, they would be spending as much time with a rake in their hands as they were with a ball or bat,” he says. “We don’t ask the basketball coach to put down the varnish on the basketball court.”
So in July 2014, administrators at this school of 800 students, located 20 miles directly south of Salt Lake City, replaced the natural grass infield of Soaring Eagle Baseball Field with FieldTurf (including the baselines and pitcher’s mound). Even the first 15 feet beyond the baselines in the outfield is turf. The school also replaced an antiquated backstop with a new netting system, providing better sight lines for spectators.
“Maintaining the old field had become a growing challenge due primarily to water issues,” according to a statement about the new field posted on the school’s website prior to the turf installation. “Draper’s urbanization had diverted more water to the old field, and the clay soil continues to need amelioration to make it safe. The new turf will prevent it from becoming a retention pond.”
When the field wasn’t waterlogged, the school spent up to $250 per day irrigating it to keep it playable.
Colosimo, athletic director Chris Long and head baseball coach Troy Davis think they’ve established a new bar for high schools in Utah and around the United States. “You’re going to see this in all parts of the country,” says Jed Easterbrook, Rocky Mountain Region Manager for FieldTurf, adding that some colleges also have begun converting grass softball fields to turf.
Draper, with an elevation of 4,500 feet above sea level, experiences its share of cold and wet weather, but with the new turf, the Soaring Eagle baseball team was able to host more fall-season games between August and October than any previous season in the school’s 15-year history. “We played one away game, because all of the other teams wanted to play here,” Davis says.
The new infield is expected to play an even greater role this spring, when Draper traditionally receives its heaviest precipitation. Add snowmelt, and weather can keep opponents off their own fields for weeks at a time.
Davis noticed improvements in his players almost immediately upon taking to the new infield, because their footing was secure on the dry, even surface. “Kids are so much more aggressive on the turf now,” Davis says. “They’re not afraid to go after the ball and slide. Practice like you play didn’t happen here until this year.”
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That’s good news for this baseball program, which — even with an unpredictable grass field — has won six Utah state baseball championships, been runner-up twice and claimed 13 regional championships.
(Juan Diego Catholic also installed an artificial turf football field 10 years ago and resurfaced it in 2013.)
The $280,000 Soaring Eagle turf infield was paid for through a combination of grants, donated money and existing funds. “A lot of schools don’t have the budget to do an entire baseball field,” Easterbrook says. “The nice thing is that they might be able to do the infield now and the outfield later.”
Will Soaring Eagle Baseball Field eventually turf the outfield, too? Colosimo is noncommittal. “The primary problems with maintaining a high school baseball field are the infield and the dirt,” he says. “The outfield tends to be less problematic, because it’s all grass and there’s less need for the ball to have true bounce. We don’t know what the long term will hold, but we know we needed to solve the infield problem.”