Prep baseball

Unlike other sports fields, baseball diamonds take on shapes all their own

2014-04-19T18:30:00Z 2014-04-20T22:36:06Z Unlike other sports fields, baseball diamonds take on shapes all their ownHillary Smith hillary.smith@nwi.com, (219) 933-3233 nwitimes.com

When Highland High School started building its baseball stadium nearly 30 years ago, then-coach Dan Miller had a chance to put his mark on the field.

A life-long Cubs fan, he incorporated as many professional touches into the stadium as he could.

The dugouts were inset into the ground. The foul poles were as tall as possible, with distances vertically attached.

"I asked for the foul poles, I wanted real tall foul poles like they had at Wrigley Field," said Miller, now retired. "The fact that it's 368 (feet) to right center and left center like at Wrigley, well, that's just a coincidence."

Wrigley Field turns 100 years old on Wednesday, with the Cubs planning a celebration that include a replica jersey giveaway, vintage food and ceremonies at the park.

In the region, most high school fields are decades away from the 100-year range. The oldest, Block Stadium in East Chicago, was built in 1942.

Like Wrigley, with its ivy-covered outfield and hand-turned scoreboard, each of the region's baseball stadiums is unique. 

Baseball purity

Major League Baseball's rules about field dimensions are precise when creating an infield.

For the outfield, there are minimum expectations, but no requirements.

Rule 1.04 of the MLB rule book reads: "NOTE (a) Any Playing Field constructed by a professional club after June 1, 1958, shall provide a minimum distance of 325 feet from home base to the nearest fence, stand or other obstruction on the right and left field foul lines, and a minimum distance of 400 feet to the center field fence. (b) No existing playing field shall be remodeled after June 1, 1958, in such manner as to reduce the distance from home base to the foul poles and to the center field fence below the minimum specified in paragraph (a) above."

When it comes to high school fields, the stadiums are created where space allows.

In more recently built schools, the ballparks were added as part of initial campus plans and no expense was spared. In older schools, upgrades have been made as time and money allow.

"Even the direction that fields are aligned, a quarter turn this way or that way, effects a lot," Hobart coach Bob Glover Jr. said.

Handmade, homemade

The Washington Township outfield fence has a history in the community.

When Menards moved from its old location in Valparaiso, the Senators baseball team bought the fence that surrounded the lumber yard, coach Randy Roberts said.

The 1,200 boards filled three semi trailers, and after five weeks of work from players, fathers, coaches and community helpers, the former chain link fence was removed and the wooden fence was installed.

Because it was still spring — and not in the more schedule-friendly summer months — the construction took place at night after games and practices.

Money was raised for the project by selling outfield advertising, so it came to the school at no cost.

At Valparaiso, the community helped heal its sorrow by constructing the dugouts after a tragic car accident in 1984.

The dugouts, named after former players Dan Jones and Todd Susdorf, were state-of-the-art at the time and have held their luster 30 years later.

"It was part of the grieving process for the families and a memorial to their athletes killed in this horrible accident," former Vikings coach Pat Murphy said. "The moms and dads volunteered their time, they brought in food and beverages and did everything they could to take care of you all day Saturday and Sunday. They donated time and labor and materials. It really truly was a great testament to the athletes."

Milk crates were painted green and secured as helmet holders, phone lines were installed to call up to the press box and a plaque was added to remember the former players.

"Prior to the dugouts that are now in place, we had what a lot of schools had: a couple of high fences with gravel," Murphy said. "There was no roof on 90 percent of them, nothing to deter the wind and cold and rain. What we had was considered a Major League dugout, really."

Infinite outfield

When the Clark Pioneers practice indoors during rainy and snowy spring days, the coaches put their outfielders up against a wall to learn how to play the ball off a solid object.

The outfield at Clark has no end. Pioneers outfielders play as far back as they can knowing a long-hit ball could go on forever with nothing to stop it in center field.

"When we played at RailCats stadium against Portage, we got beat up pretty bad because our guys had a hard time playing off the wall," first-year coach Justin Ochall said. "It's because they're not used to it."

When Clark hosted a sectional in 2012, the school scrounged materials to adhere to IHSAA rules.

"We borrowed (Bishop) Noll’s portable scoreboard and set up tables for a press box and used a snow fence for a fence, because you have to have a fence to host the sectional," Ochall said. "There's a fence that borders our property, but it's 500 feet to left field. If you have a 600 foot ball to center, it'll go pretty far."

From cold to warm confines

Whiting High School's former ballfield sat with Lake Michigan just off the right field fence.

The wind that blew in would drop the temperature at the field as much as 20 to30 degrees lower than fields in south Lake County.

The outfield was pocketed with utility poles, hanging wires and a flag pole, all of which were inside the official grounds.

"It would take me half an hour to go through the conference at home plate of what was in bounds and out of bounds," Whiting coach Kevin Lenz said.

The Oilers took over Oil City Stadium in time for the 2011 season. The park, a $6 million investment by the city, gave the high school team the most modern amenities of any prep stadium in northern Indiana.

The outfield reaches 403 feet, has a brick wall surrounding it, a scoreboard that includes a radar gun hook-up, locker rooms and showers attached to the complex and lights for night games.

"I (initially) didn’t realize to what extent they were going to build the stadium," Lenz said. "I didn’t know they were going to build the 'Field of Dreams.'"

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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