Field of the future? All-turf baseball diamond at Eastridge draws rave reviews


The all-turf field for baseball at Eastridge is the first of its kind at a Monroe County high school.

Outside his office window at Eastridge High School, Bob Crocetti watched snowflakes fly on Monday and rain fall Tuesday on the school’s baseball field. But unlike almost every other athletic director in Section V, he didn’t fear Wednesday’s game would be postponed by wet field conditions. That’s because the school’s new all-turf baseball field has been a game-changer.

“Last year,” Crocetti said, “there’s no way we could play a game,” after back-to-back days of wet weather.

Not so this year despite some of the worst spring weather in recent memory. Eastridge has played three scrimmages and three games at home, including Wednesday’s win over Greece Odyssey.

“This looks like a professional ballpark right here. To think 35 years ago I was coaching baseball here and look at it today, this is just incredible. This is gorgeous,” Odyssey coach Roger Klimek said.

There is no dirt at all at Eastridge — not on the pitching mound, the batter’s box or around the infield. But reddish turf in those spots makes it look like a traditional diamond. State aid and a capital improvement project at Eastridge funded the $1.83 million project, Crocetti said. Previously allocated taxpayer money was used.

Asked whether he thought more all-turf baseball and softball diamonds could be western New York’s fields of the future in its challenging climate, Klimek said: “They should be.”

The Eastridge complex is the first of its kind in the 23-school Monroe County league. Honeoye Falls-Lima already has submitted plans to the state Education Department for a similar one, athletic director Brian Donohue said. Bolivar-Richburg and Fillmore, a pair of Allegany County schools, have all-turf baseball/softball complexes that were built within the past three years. They were designed by Clark Patterson Lee, a Rochester-based architectural engineering firm that handles fields and buildings for schools, colleges and hospitals.

In the Finger Lakes League, Newark is adding a turf field that will be used for baseball, softball, soccer and lacrosse. Construction started a month ago and, according to Newark athletic director Chris Corey, it should be ready by the fall.

Rochester’s LaBella Associates designed Eastridge’s field with New York City-based Turner as project manager. DiFiore Construction of Rochester did the work, which started last spring and was completed in November. To save money, Crocetti said, the dugouts and backstop from the old field weren’t altered.

CPL built its first turf baseball field at Arlington High in Dutchess County near Poughkeepsie in 2007. That was just the infield, said CPL site design group manager Norm Gardner, whose sons, Brian and Andy, are former Fairport athletes. CPL just broke ground on another in Port Byron, Cayuga County, and Allegany-Limestone in Cattaraugus County, near Olean, plans to begin play on its new field in 2019, Gardner said.

“The first time I hit grounders (in practice) I thought the ball was going to skip more and it doesn’t,” fourth-year Eastridge coach Mike Screen said. “It’s as close to real grass as can be.”

“(The ball) doesn’t roll as fast as I thought it would. It takes good hops, too,” said Eastridge outfielder Patrick Mortillaro. “It feels like you’re playing on grass.”

Infielders hate bad hops that might give them a fat lip. They don’t happen on an artificial surface such as the A-Turf field at Eastridge. “It’s nice not to have them. It’s like you’re playing in the gym,” Lancers senior third baseman John Montana said.

Truer bounces means fewer errors and a cleaner, faster game, Screen said. Gardner said turf has come a long way, even in the past decade. Improvements have made it softer and it plays more like grass. Balls just don’t roll forever. They’ll stop.

“It was very quick. We’ve done a lot of work to make it slower,” Gardner said. “Turf companies really focused on making it a truer bounce.”

The University of Rochester and Monroe Community College also have all-turf fields. Webster Thomas and Webster Schroeder play some games at a multiuse complex on Basket Road owned by the town of Webster. But that field is about 10 years old, Schroeder athletic director Gary Tirohn said, and has a dirt mound and batter’s box. The turf is more matted and plays faster than newer turf.

Mound Matters

UR has a turf batter’s box and dirt mound, but head coach Joe Reina said the Yellowjackets are switching to a turf mound in May. “Once the clay becomes compacted on and around the mound, (water) doesn’t drain. It’s just mud,” said Reina, a Gates Chili grad in his 17th season as the UR skipper.

Crocetti said Eastridge’s field was raised up about 2½ feet higher than the old one so drainage compartments could be installed beneath it. Those drain into a retention pond behind right field.

Clay mounds usually provide pitchers with a small, sunken area where they can plant their lead foot. Turf mounds don’t have that, but Screen said no pitcher has complained about slipping and Eastridge has played in snow, sleet and rain. Players can wear cleats with spikes, so that helps

But Gardner of CPL said he still thinks dirt mounds are best. He advises schools to incorporate clay on the mound and batter’s box and invest in tarps to cover them.

“I haven’t found a better way,” he said about clay mounds.

Rising Spirit

A sparkling, new field has made a positive impact in another way at Eastridge, too. There’s excitement just stepping on the field.

“Our first practice we had kids hit home runs off live pitching. I think a lot of it was just the juice from the field,” Screen said. “They love it.”

He has even received text messages from opposing coaches after games, saying how excited Eastridge’s opponents — Batavia and Pittsford Sutherland — were after playing on it.

The complex is multipurpose, too.

The outfield is lined for soccer. Crocetti said it’s 110 yards long by 60 yards wide and can be usd for modified games. The outfield can be used as a varsity practice field for soccer, football and field hockey in the fall and lacrosse in the spring. That will alleviate congestion on the school’s stadium field, which was built in 2009.

Varsity soccer is still expected to play matches on the stadium field, but now it has a turf area to practice rather than its former practice field, which was grass (and often soggy).

“They were at a disadvantage. Practicing on the same surface helps,” Crocetti said.

Turf fields cut down drastically on maintenance costs. A possible turf softball field could be the next project, he said.

So far, everyone’s giving rave reviews about the baseball field. While the baseball championships are still scheduled for Frontier Field, Section V baseball coordinator Jason Bunting has asked Crocetti about Eastridge’s availability for the semifinals.

The outfield dimensions are 300 feet to left, 418 to center and 290 to right.

“In addition to baseball, we needed another all-purpose field for practice,” Crocetti said. “We just wanted to make sure we put together a field that everybody here in East Irondequoit could be proud of.”

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