Improved home field provides advantages beyond aesthetics
Baseball has always had a comparably equal fascination with its parks and stadiums as with its players and records.
While the seats in Cougar Field are the same, as is the looming press box, the most notable difference lies on the field itself. The green is brighter, but one thing to notice are the small granules of black that blast off the ground when players make their way down the base path.
The new surface is not grass nor AstroTurf, but rather FieldTurf. While not the same AstroTurf made famous by the Astrodome and later infamous for tearing knees and ankles to shreds, FieldTurf is designed to be like natural grass.
“It’s going to be better for us to field on. Obviously we’re not going to have any rainouts, so we’ll get a lot more reps in,” said senior outfielder Landon Appling. “The whole field is just in a whole lot better condition than what we had. The ball stays true, you don’t have to worry about holes or divots. It’s a flat surface. You always know what you’re going to get.”
According to Calhoun, Ga.-based FieldTurf Tarkett, FieldTurf is “washed silica sand and rounded cryogenic rubber” that is permeable and allows for better drainage.
Head coach Todd Whitting sees the new field as useful given the now-three-year-old, NCAA-mandated rule change that aluminum bats now perform more like the wooden bats used by Major League Baseball.
“With the bat specifications now, they’ve kind of deadened the bats with the new rules, so I wanted to create as much offense as we could,” Whitting said. “It’s more about dropping balls in front of people than hitting them over their heads. The ball, on this field, is not going to bounce over anyone’s head.”
Offense, Whitting pointed out, includes stolen bases and speed, something that the team has in ample supply.
“The turf plays a little bit faster, and you can run a little bit faster on it,” said sophomore outfielder Kyle Survance, who led Conference USA in stolen bases last season. “I feel like I’ll have a little bit more of an advantage this year.”
The learning curve quirks of their new domain are not lost on the Cougars. The art of sliding is being reinforced in relation to the new surface.
“Sliding is a big issue. On this type of turf, you can typically slide over the base,” Whitting said. “Hopefully a couple of times this year, our opponents will slide past the base when we need that.”
Strategy aside, the aesthetics of the new field aren’t lost on the team.
“Not everybody gets the chance to play on a beautiful field like this,” Appling said.