Early Season Shifts to Turf Fields

LeRoy High School will kick off its Spring softball season at Millikin University. With the first two scheduled “home” games being played on a turf field, LeRoy joins other area schools that are increasingly looking to alternative “home” fields to get their seasons started.

Beginning a softball season in mid-March in Illinois is always a gamble. Coaches, Athletic Directors, and Assignors scramble as temperatures and precipitation hinder well-laid plans. Umpires jostle their schedules to meet the changing demand. Parents adjust to attend games and arrange transportation.

Opinions differ between coaches about if turf fields play the same as dirt and grass. Does the ball bounce harder? Travel faster? Is running impacted by the difference in surfaces? While those questions will be ongoing cause for discussion, there’s no debate that turf fields are becoming more popular. In part, it’s because they’re more likely to be playable in inclement weather.

Millikin University in Decatur, IL replaced their dirt field with a turf field a couple of years ago. Pekin, IL and Peoria, IL both feature complexes with turf fields, some of them even inside a dome. Springfield also features a complex with outdoor turf fields. Peoria’s Louisville Slugger Complex acts as the home field for both Bradley University and Peoria Notre Dame High School. Maroa-Forsyth and Bloomington Central Catholic High Schools both look to turf when the weather is inclement.

Regardless of your feelings about umpiring or playing on turf, there’s no denying that high schools are looking to those venues to begin their seasons. In some instances games are moved to these locations mid-season to avoid rainouts as well.

As an assignor, I always work with schools to set expectations upfront about venue changes including a decision time (so I have time to back-fill umpires if needed) and a bump in pay to account for added travel expenses.

The college softball season has already begun and high school games can be played starting March 16. In those potentially frigid early-March days, be prepared for schools to shift their games to turf fields. Regardless of the weather, we all anticipate the first “Play ball!” of the Spring season.