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Superior’s all-turf baseball field will be first of its kind in the region

By Louie St. George

Duluth News Tribune

The initial plans for the baseball field at Superior High School’s new athletic complex called for an

That changed, though, when the school district negotiated a $400,000 naming rights deal with National Bank of Commerce. Officials decided to use some of that money — whereby the venue’s formal name will be NBC Spartan Sports Complex — to turf the outfield as well.

It’s a decision that’s looking more and more like a home run. Aside from the obvious competitive advantages an artificial surface will offer the school’s spring sports teams, which will be able to practice and play outside much earlier than the majority of their opponents, it also could trigger a financial windfall.

Consider Veterans Field in Minnetonka, thought to be the only prep field in Minnesota that is all turf. With the Metrodome no longer available, the Minnetonka ballpark has been a hot commodity this spring among Twin Cities teams unable to play on traditional fields that are snowed over, frozen stiff or under standing water.

And they’re willing to pay. The Minnetonka Diamond Club, which oversees Veterans Field, charges nonmembers $350 per game.

No problem, they say.

“We’ve had college teams come in at

8 o’clock in the morning,” said Brian Tichy, president of the Diamond Club.

Indeed, on one Sunday in late March, the field hosted eight college games, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. That’s $2,800 in a single day.

Tichy added that the per-game rate used to be $250 when the Metrodome was still around. When the Teflon bubble deflated, that price tag inflated.

“We’re kind of the only game in town,” Tichy said.

That’s exactly what the baseball field at Superior will be when it debuts next spring. And with so many prep and college teams in the region, demand figures to be abundant.

Incidentally, when the Spartans baseball team played at the sprawling, all-turf Woodside Sports Complex in Mauston, Wis., the rate for a doubleheader against Hermantown was $175 per hour, which would equal about $350 per contest.

Superior athletic director Ray Kosey said there hasn’t been much discussion about what to charge outside entities. First and foremost, he said, the field will be a resource for the school and surrounding community.

“We’re going to have a nice facility, but we want to make sure we’re charging something that is going to take care of the wear and tear and maintenance of the field,” Kosey said. “I don’t see us having an outrageous price.”

Renting the field could provide a significant revenue source to be used for replacing the turf once it exceeds its shelf life, expected to be around 15 years, depending on usage.

Once the snow clears from a turf field — a process that can be expedited with shoveling and modified plowing — it’s basically playable, unlike natural grass fields that aren’t usable until ground frost is gone. Likewise, because of advanced drainage systems, turf fields dry out much faster than their more traditional counterparts.

“It can rain until 2 o’clock and we can be out there practicing, whereas a traditional baseball field you’re canceling games at noon because it rained so hard you know there’s no way you’re going to be able to dry the field out,” Kosey said.

Superior baseball coach Don Dembroski only can imagine what life will be like with a playable field continuously at his disposal. For the second time in as many years, spring in the Twin Ports has been only a rumor.

“We’ve played five games this year and we haven’t practiced on a field yet,” Dembroski said. “It makes it hard to work. You can replicate certain things in a parking lot, but there’s no substitute for being on an open field.”

The only part of Superior’s new field that won’t feature turf will be the pitching mound, which will be comprised of the customary dirt and clay. Turf for the bases and warning track will be brown.

As turf continues to evolve, the stereotypes about it disappear. It plays and feels like grass — not the rock-hard carpet that defined the Metrodome’s early years. Perhaps its biggest selling point is consistency, where “bad hops” don’t exist.

And it lets teams play baseball outside rather than in a gym.

“We’re more than excited — we’re ecstatic over here,” Dembroski said, noting the school still is pursuing money to add lights to the field.

Construction on the sports complex is expected to start in about a week. The football field should be ready for the Spartans’ home opener.