When it comes to the sights traditionally associated with baseball, few things can rival old-fashioned dirt. Players slide home and come up brown with dirt stains. Pitchers scoop up small handfuls to provide extra grip while batters try to kick up small storms of dirt in the batters box as a way to blur its rear lines. Old-fashioned dirt plays such a prominent role at traditional baseball diamonds that you can practically smell it mingling with hot dogs and peanuts in the air that circulates through the stands. Dirt is to baseball almost as apple pie proverbially is to America.
Yet, at one new baseball diamond in Western Pennsylvania, none of those traditional roles are being filled, for one clear-cut reason: The park doesn't have any dirt at all.
According to the Washington Observer-Reporter, Consol Energy Park, the newly re-baptized home of the Washington Wild Things of the independent Frontier League and the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League's Trinity (Pa.) High, is a baseball facility with a surface comprised entirely of field turf, even the "dirt." The minor league stadium used a traditional grass and dirt baseball surface through the 2010 season, after which ProGrass Synthetic Turf was installed.
The result of the offseason renovation is a new surface which looks and, reportedly, plays much like grass, with one big difference: Team managers can now leave the Tide stain stick at home when washing uniforms after a game at CEP.
While Tampa Bay and Toronto still use artificial turf surfaces in Major League Baseball, both teams use dirt around the plate and between the bases. That's not the case at CEP. Instead of dirt basepaths, Consol Energy has dirt-brown-colored, pellet-based field turf between the lines, with white field turf marking the batters box and baselines.
While the independent minor league baseball team won't open the season until the end of May, Trinity has already hosted other area high schools, putting Consol Energy's surface to good use with generally positive reviews.
"Since 1997, we've been practicing on our football field, which has artificial turf. We know how you have to slide on the turf," Trinity coach Levi Bristor told the Observer-Reporter. "But it's nice to be able to take a round of infield at practice and know its going to be on the same surface as the one we'll be playing half our games on. Before, if we wanted to practice on grass, we had to go to Trinity South."
For Trinity, the move to an all-turf facility has been less of a shock to the system than many might anticipate. As Bristor mentioned, his program has practiced on the school's artificial turf football field since 1997, a background which gives Trinity's players an edge over their opponents.
That turf practice field has also helped Trinity adjust to the its new park's no metal spikes policy, a shift in footwear which could throw off other WPIAL teams which will enter CEP forced to abandon their traditional game-day footwear.
Bristor insists that neither the lack of traditional footwear or the lack of dirt between the lines poses a significant edge for his team, all while raving about a surface which has been described as "stunningly green," and able to host a game just minutes after a heavy downpour.
"It's a great field," Bristor told the Observer-Reporter. "We're pleased to be here, and I'm sure if you were to ask any away team that's going to play here, they'll tell you afterward that they like it too."
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