Love it or hate it: Hill Denson Field could soon get turf installed

By ANDREW ABADIE,

Pete Taylor Park and Hill Denson Field may have a different surface come the 2020 season. Southern Miss was forced to make numerous schedule changes this season due to weather and field conditions, so it has forced Southern Miss coach Scott Berry to look for a solution.

“I would love to have natural grass,” Berry said. “We don’t have the resources to keep up natural grass. We don’t have the manpower to keep it up – the cost factor. If we look at a synthetic turf based on our facilities, we don’t have an indoor facility outside of the hitting cages. What synthetic turf allows you to do is to really never miss a game or a day of practice unless it’s absolutely flooding or lightning. Once it’s done, you can play in five minutes.”

In the last three seasons, the Southern Miss program has had to play 11 doubleheaders, as well as the reschedule multiple games due to the field conditions. In comparison, Tulane, which has had a turf field since 2008, has played only three doubleheaders due to weather in the last three seasons.

“We can’t afford to miss gates,” Berry said. “We’re in the top 20 attendance in the country for total attendance. When we miss a gate, we’re missing revenue coming into our athletic department. We can’t afford to miss that revenue. We can’t afford to move it into a doubleheader and only get one gate because that’s a significant loss into revenue to have.”

According to the 2017 NCAA Baseball Total Attendance, Southern Miss was listed at No. 19 averaging 3,028 fans per game.

Berry said the field conditions were so bad this past season that entire baseballs could be lost in the outfield. In the Gonzaga series, which had a game canceled and a doubleheader played due to weather and field conditions, Berry was forced to add ground rules prior to games because balls would mysteriously disappear in Pete Taylor Park’s outfield.

“The current [field] has been there since [1993],” Berry said. “That’s way, way overdue. We started losing balls in the outfield this year where they disappeared in the ground. In the Gonzaga series, I had to put that into the ground rules if a ball plugs, disappears into the ground, it’s a ground rule double. If you see any part of it, dig it out and we play.

“When they finally redid the field and started digging it up, balls were coming out of the ground like sweet potatoes.”

To install a turf field, according to Berry, it would cost between $1.2 and $1.3 million and last for 10 years. The outfield in Pete Taylor Park will be redone no matter what this offseason, which could cost upwards of $600,000.

“You have to front-load it with all the money, but then on the back end, you are not having to worry about all that,” Berry said. “Fertilizer, herbicide, adding clay, coming in and reworking your infield. When I have to have my infield all shaved off that’s $60,000. Grass cutting, labor, you no longer have to have somebody there on the weekends to line the field [and] line the boxes, so you’re not paying overtime. It’s a lot of cost savings over the 10-year period.”

The installation of the turf field would include the entire field and eliminate the infield dirt and mound.

“Everyone I talked to says to do that, too,” Berry said. “Eliminate all dirt. You don’t have anything to worry about. You just play ball. Everybody says the pitchers on (a turf) mound feel no different than a dirt mound. No dirty uniforms. No dirty bases. No dirty baseballs.”

The turf field is planned to not have rubber pellets, but instead organic options to decrease the heat on the field. 

“One company has ground up pecan shells,” Berry said. “They are going organic. Another one is coconut holes. The reason for that is the coolness, the temperature, they are trying to get the temperature down. That rubber is really hot. They have come up with some different mixtures. Each company has its own patent from what I understand [and] talking with them and listening to their salespeople.”

Any renovations to the field will not occur until next spring.

“We are in the process for trying to raise money for it right now,” Berry said. “We’ll make an announcement with it later. I would think with the time that we could get fall practice in with our field now, and as soon as fall practice is over, to start (on the renovation).

“We will do something. If we can’t get the money for synthetic turf then we will redo the outfield. We have to. It’s at a point to where you’ve got to. We’ll do something to the field before next year. I’m hoping that it’ll be synthetic [turf].”

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