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The swirling dirt, noise of heavy machinery and images of a crumbling outfield wall were a comforting feeling for UAB baseball coach Casey Dunn last week as he met with a couple of media members to discuss the beginning of the Young Memorial Field transformation.
The first step is the installation of a synthetic grass field and replacing the outfield wall with a brand new pro-padded wall. The field has been torn up for a couple of weeks while the wall began to come down last week.
Sights and sounds of progress are a good thing.
“I’m really excited, this is the first step as we try to enhance the facilities here at Young Memorial,” Dunn said. “That’s kind of the best thing about it, is it’s truly the first step.”
Dunn said UAB will use the Shaw Sport Turf surface that is utilized in major league baseball by three organizations. The project was made possible thanks to a lead donation of $1.45 million by Gerald and Nicki Kennedy. Gerald is a former UAB baseball player.
“It’s going to be interesting to see,” Dunn said. “We truly have what is the best out there - same turf, same manufacturer, same installer that did the Texas Rangers, the Marlins, the Diamondbacks. It’s actually the only turf that’s approved by the Major League Players Association. It will have as a true of a hop as you can get. I think that’s what’s going to be interesting to see. It should play as close to grass and dirt as you can simulate. We're looking forward to it.”
Rubber pellets are placed underneath the infield and outfield areas. In the areas that would be dirt, they use a nutshell to get the same feel as the dirt on the natural surface fields.
“Most of the artificial surfaces we play on are slower than the natural surfaces we play on, because of the amount of rubber,” Dunn said. “Using the nutshell, instead of rubber, which compacts a little more, gets firmer, so the ball will play more true, a little faster. A lot of turf fields, there is not a big transition from the green to the brown. With us, I think you will see a little more of a transition when it gets to the skin area of the field.”
Speaking of transition, Dunn is doing what he can to get his players used to playing on the synthetic turf field. They are unable to practice at Young Memorial Field, obviously, so the Blazers play intrasquad games and work out three days a week at the turf facility at the Hoover Met. The other two days, the Blazers used the hitting cage and bullpens at Young Memorial Field and also get some fundamental work and ground balls on the outside field at the UAB football facility.
That schedule has allowed them to get work in without much inconvenience.
“When you go over to Hoover, you got multiple fields you can spread out on,” Dunn said. “It’s almost like being like a spring training. While it’s a hassle to drive back and forth, once you’re there it’s better than what we have here, because we have more fields and can spread out more.”
Dunn said the project is supposed to be done by January, which would allow them to get practice sessions in before the season begins. Maintenance between the synthetic surface and the regular surface is “night and day,” according to Dunn.
“There are still things you have to do on an artificial field,” Dunn said. “We’ll still have to work the mound and the plate areas – [they’re] heavy use areas, those will have to be reworked regularly. But it’s not every day, it’s of an every-two-weeks kind of a maintenance program.”
The Blazers were 31-25 in Dunn’s first season at the helm of the program. It was the most wins by a coach in his first season at UAB and the most wins overall since 2015. UAB also played in the C-USA Tournament for the first time since 2018.
His second team has a lot of work ahead, but Dunn likes what he sees thus far.
“I think our guys have done a good job of building off of year one, as we come into our second year here,” Dunn said. “We got a good mixture of new guys that are returners. I think those guys have kind of molded well together. It’s been an enjoyable fall. We’ll see what it leads to come springtime.”
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