Sept. 26, 2013
University of Michigan director of athletics Dave Brandon will regularly offer his view on a variety of topics related to U-M and intercollegiate sports. All his posts, along with links to related content, will be available on his page,mgoblue.com/brandon, and he is also on Twitter at @DaveBrandonAD.
When the Michigan baseball team holds its annual reunion next weekend, our baseball student-athlete alumni will see the baseball diamond they remember all torn up! Bulldozers, trucks and piles of dirt will cover what used to be their playing surface, readying a scene for the next chapter of Wolverine Baseball.
Michigan has been playing baseball at Ray Fisher Stadium since 1923, and even with the $9 million renovation completed in 2009, the field underfoot of U-M's heroes of the diamond has remained the same -- natural grass. Now, a $2.5 million artificial turf installation project taking place at the Wilpon Baseball and Softball Complex for the baseball and softball fields will change all that!
Synthetic Astroturf, improved dugouts, and video boards are now being installed throughout the Wilpon Complex at both Ray Fisher Stadium and Alumni Field. The new turf is the very latest technology, and it will provide our Wolverine baseball and softball players with the best playing surface available. This has only been made possible as a result of the generous support of the Wilpon family, which has given us the resources necessary to allow for the installation of this incredible new playing surface. We are so grateful for their continued support of Michigan baseball and softball.
The turf will provide the best and most consistent field possible for competition. However, weather is the biggest reason for the change. Traditional fields do not stand up well to snow, heavy downpours, and the cold early spring conditions we experience in our part of the country. Practices and games have been affected, and at times, our student-athletes' health and safety is a concern.
Throughout the years, many of our teams haven't been able to practice outdoors in the spring until they travel to the site of their first competition. And when they have been able to practice outside, makeshift fields next to Glick Field House are constructed. It is hard to prepare to play these sports if you don't get to see the ball off the bat.
The installation process has not been easy for either team, producing a few minor interruptions along the way. Baseball and softball have had to find different practice venues this September and October.
The softball team is practicing at Ann Arbor Huron High School throughout the fall, while the baseball team is "barnstorming" throughout southeastern Michigan, going to different fields not only to practice but to help promote the block M everywhere they go!
The plans are different, but the needs of each team are also different.
Starting her 30th seasons as softball head coach, Carol Hutchins and her staff are known throughout the state by high school coaches, players and families. On the other hand, Erik Bakich and his baseball staff are preparing for their second season. Traveling to various locations to practice gives them a great opportunity to meet members of the baseball community all around our area.
The "barnstorming" allows the staff to visit other baseball people and leads to improved camaraderie between the players. The U-M softball team also uses fall travel to build relationships but in a different way. This weekend, the Wolverines will travel to Traverse City for their annual exhibition softball tournament.
Fall practice is significant. It gives both teams a chance to see how their freshman student-athletes react to their first taste of college, and it gives them an idea of what they need to work on to be successful next season. And upgrades to both Ray Fisher Stadium and Alumni Field will also be valuable as they plan for next year's competition.
Soon, when Hutch and Erik have their teams take the field back here on campus to prepare for their 2014 season, their student-athletes -- and all who follow them in the future -- will have an opportunity to practice and compete in one of the best combined baseball and softball facilities in the nation -- the Wilpon Baseball and Softball Complex!
Yes, it is a great time to be a Michigan Wolverine!