FROM CBB NEWS SOURCE
Wake Forest University purchased the half-century old baseball park from the Winston-Salem Dash in the fall of 2008. Although the facility had the perfect size and location, the previous owners had left the field in a state that was unsuitable for a competitive ACC team.
“When we inherited the stadium, the baseball field was in the worst shape I had ever seen,” said Wake Forest baseball head coach Tom Walter. “It had two dozen different kinds of grass and various weed issues; it was in pretty significant disrepair.”
According to Coach Walter and several of his players, having such a decrepit field affected the team across the board, from their focus during practice to their ability to avoid mistakes during games.
With the previous field, the baseball team had to take the first and last 30 minutes of practice to maintain and groom the turf. The coaches also noticed players making mistakes during games that they would not have made had the field been in better shape.
“I certainly believe that our field last year led to some early season errors, especially with our freshman short stop, that would not have been made otherwise,” said Coach Walter.
Another issue with the facility was that it was not as attractive to high school baseball players that were interested in joining the Demon Deacons.
“In the past, our field was probably on the lower end of the ACC,” said junior pitcher Austin Stadler. “That definitely made it harder for us to recruit players.”
The difficulties the baseball team faced because of the state of the new facility did not go unnoticed by the Wake Forest Athletic Department. From the moment the university acquired the new park, Athletic Director Ron Wellman and his staff were adamant about giving the Demon Deacon baseball team the facility it deserved.
From the beginning, Coach Walter knew that he wanted an artificial surface instead of a real surface given the climate in Winston-Salem.
“We’re on the cusp of the area where we get a little bit of snow,” said Walter. “Since our two main practice months are January and February, I felt that having an artificial surface would help us get more practice days leading up to opening day, which will be Feb. 18.”
Coach Walter and the WFU athletic staff then narrowed down their options to three companies. The first was FieldTurf, the company whose turf can be found at Wake Forest’s BB&T Field and the baseball stadiums at Tulane University and the University of Louisville. However, after visiting the FieldTurf field at the Cal Ripken facility in Myrtle Beach, S.C., Coach Walter and his players decided that it seemed to be more suitable for football fields than baseball.
The Deacons also looked into Desso Sports Systems, a primarily European soccer turf company that is attempting to reign in some American business by designing and laying turf for baseball fields. However, after visiting the Desso field at Gulliver Prep, Miami, Fla., then testing the third option, AstroTurf, at James Madison University, the baseball team decided that the latter was the best choice.
“We walked on all three surfaces, took groundballs on all three surfaces and both our coaches and players unanimously said that AstroTurf had the most authentic feel for baseball,” said Coach Walter.
Just after the 2010 baseball season ended, Wake Forest University and Carolina Green Corporation were able to break ground at Wake Forest Baseball Park and begin to equip the new home of Demon Deacon baseball with “The Official Turf of Major League Baseball.”
Although the baseball team has only had a few practices on their new turf so far, Coach Walter is already beginning to see a difference in the morale of his fellow coaches and players.
“Any time you can add a first class facility to your program, it affects your players and how they come to practice each day,” said Walter. “It’s like Christmas Day. You wake up, open your presents and then you want to play with those new presents every day. That’s how we feel about this facility.”
Coach Walter also projects that the new field will have a grandiose affect on the way the team performs during the upcoming 2011 season, especially since he attributes many of the deacons’ defensive woes last year to the state of the old field.
“A lot of people don’t realize that you can go into defensive slumps just as you can go into offensive slumps,” said Walter. “When you’re making errors because of the field in addition to normal errors, then you feel additional pressure and you start to do things that you wouldn’t normally do. This new field will make us a better defensive club and give us more confidence.”
According to the aforementioned pitcher, Austin Stadler, the new field will also do wonders for the university’s ability to attract talented recruits to Wake’s baseball program.
“You can tell by all of the freshmen that we’re having coming in now that the new field makes a big difference,” said Stadler. “With our new artificial turf, we have one of the best facilities in the ACC.”
Coach Walter agrees with Stadler in that he believes that any athletic facility is the face of the program and the state that the baseball stadium is in is a major reflection of how the administration feels about the program.
“When you have a beautiful stadium like this, you can tell and show a recruit and his parents that baseball is important at Wake Forest University,” said Walter. “We’re over $11 million into our facility and that investment really signifies that Wake Forest is serious about the future of its baseball program.”
Given the importance of the facility’s appearance, both Coach Walter and the rest of his team are extremely enthusiastic about Wake Forest Baseball Park’s next renovation: new chair-backs.
“Right now we have these red and blue chair-backs because this used to be a Chicago Cubs minor league facility,” said Walter. “We really need to `deaconize’ it. Our logo is the best in all of college sports so I’m very excited to get as many W-F’s and as much black and gold as possible.”
Stadler agrees that in addition to the state-of-the-art scoreboards and new landscaping that are currently under construction at the stadium now, having Wake Forest’s colors in the stands instead of red and blue will be very exciting for the team. However, the Wake Forest junior is even more enthusiastic about potential renovations that will draw in more student support.
“I have heard that there is a possibility of a student section where people can have fun and relax,” said Stadler. “That would definitely increase the number of students coming to our games and that’s what is most important. We have this great new stadium, now we want to see people coming out to support.”