With a dozen games under their belt playing on the new infield turf at David Story Field, the Lower Columbia College Red Devils have adapted to their surroundings.
“It’s been a quick transition for the guys,” LCC baseball coach Eddie Smith said. “Many of them have grown up playing on these types of surfaces. For this generation, it’s more of what they’re used to than having to adapt.”
The $502,000 project, which was completed in late January, features a completely turfed infield including the basepaths, home plate and mound. The turf is expected to last 10-20 years, depending on usage.
“The challenge for us will be transitioning on defense,” Smith said. “You can get lazy on turf since you don’t have to move your feet as much. You get true hops on the ball 99 percent of the time.”
Smith refers to the turf as “The Great Equalizer.”
“It will make it harder to score runs with fewer errors,” he said. “When it’s lower scoring, all you need is a bloop and a bomb to tie the game or take the lead.”
The new surface also makes it more difficult to play small-ball with bunting to move players from base to base.
“It’s a lot easier to field a bunt on turf,” Smith said. “That’s where the grass comes in, where the ball may not roll straight. On turf, the ball will roll perfectly straight like a golf ball on a green. Bunting is a great weapon, but it’s used in fewer situations than it was 10-15 years ago.”
The Devils also had to learn different baserunning techniques on turf.
“We’ve learned to start sliding earlier when it’s wet,” Smith said. “You’ll slide through the base if you’re not smart about it. Defensively, we have to be aware of it and be ready to apply the tag on a runner if they slide past the bag.”
In previous years, games were called when the dirt became too wet and slippery to play on. Now, umpires and coaches have a new barometer to determine playability.
“In the past, it was determined if the field could hold up we would practice or have games,” Smith said. “Now, the infield will hold up, and we have to monitor if the ball or bat is slipping out of hands. At that point we have to stop.”
An example of this was opening night against Linn-Benton on March 3.
“We probably shouldn’t have played,” Smith said. “Neither team had players who could hold onto the ball, and the bat slipped out of a few hands.”
That will probably be the new mark of playability.
“It’s not as easy as before when someone slipped, we’d drag out the tarp,” Smith said.
He also admits the infield turf has helped in recruiting.
“A lot of teams can’t practice on their field in bad weather,” Smith said. “We tell them we can be on the field a lot during January to March, where other teams are stuck inside in gyms. The field is a big piece of recruiting, and we have to show them how it helps them to get to the next level.”
While the infield is set, Smith and his coaching staff can turn their attention to the outfield, along with the season.
“The outfield is in terrible shape,” he said. “Part of it has been the weather, and part of it comes from overuse. It’s a fine line for us. We play 50 games on it over three months, and we have only so much time as a staff to work on it.”