OREM — Utah Valley baseball will open the home portion of its schedule at Brigham Young University on Tuesday as workers finish the installation process of a new artificial turf field at UCCU Ballpark.
Chad Foote, UVU’s deputy athletic director, delayed the decision for as long as he could, hoping by Monday the field would be ready for UVU to host the quick two-game series against Air Force, but the ruling was made official Monday to move the games to Provo. Foote is more hopeful the field will be ready when Boise State comes to Orem to begin a four-game set on Friday.
The field itself is essentially done being installed; it’s the process of applying the infill to the turf and evenly distributing it that is coming down to the wire.
“Maybe that’s why my blood pressure was high this morning when I went to the doctor,” Foote said. “I’ve been stressing out over that. Yeah, it’s close.”
Infill is made up of recycled tires that are processed into crumb, or granular rubber. It’s the material that gives artificial playing surfaces the spongy consistency that makes it safe for the players to dive, slide and cut on.
While the field may look game-ready to the average fan, without the consistency and proper depth of infill, players are at a greater risk of injury, in addition to not knowing how the ball will play off the unfinished turf.
UVU decided to tear out its natural playing surface following last season in favor of artificial turf in the hopes that future February and early March games on the baseball schedule will no longer be a concern due to weather.
BYU installed artificial turf at Larry H. Miller field before the 2019 season, as well as laying down heating elements underneath the field in order to aid snow removal. Although UVU didn’t put down heating elements, the material maintains heat more than a grass surface, which was attractive to the Wolverines’ athletic department.
Foote said having the option of taking a snow plow onto the field during winter months will take the pressure of having to cancel games off of the school. Also, because the college season ends before the blazing temperatures of summer arrive, he doesn’t anticipate any issues with players getting overheated on hot days.
“Luckily, out here, you don’t have to worry about that as much,” Foote said. “We’re not playing into July and August, so we don’t have to worry about it so much as a UVU baseball team. So, that’s really not a factor here like it can be in other places.”
Another reason UVU wanted to make the change was to have greater consistency in how the ball plays on the field. Without the resources to staff a full grounds crew like professional ball clubs, it can be difficult to maintain a superior playing surface with as many games as the ballpark sees.
“There are some traditionalists out there,” Foote said, “but I talked to some other baseball coaches at baseball schools. … They said, ‘Honestly, it’s what all the athletes are playing on now anyway. They’re used to it.’”
Jeff Katofsky, owner of the Orem Owlz, a rookie league MiLB affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels, said he had no voice in the decision to change playing surfaces as a tenant of the university and so his take is irrelevant. Despite this, he’s keeping an open mind about the switch.
“Thankfully, they chose a really superior product,” Katofsky said. “There are a lot of brands out there, and they really put in the Rolls Royce product (with FieldTurf).”
He said if the artificial field turns out to be 20 degrees hotter than a natural playing surface would be in the middle of July, it would concern him, but he has seen big technological advances in artificial turf fields, so he is optimistic.
Katofsky added that he doesn’t, at this point, envision the artificial field playing a role in any future discussions of a new lease agreement with the school. The Owlz current lease with UVU runs through the 2022 season.