By Matt Breach, Lewis-Clark State (Idaho) Assistant Sports Information Director
LEWISTON, Idaho - Every year, when the end of May rolls around, 10 fortunate teams, some coming from the far-flung reaches of the country, gather at Harris Field to compete for the ultimate prize in NAIA baseball. But for the past few months, the venerable Normal Hill diamond has hardly resembled the mecca of the sport.
Rather, the longstanding home of the Avista-NAIA World Series has looked more like a construction zone. That’s because the ballpark has been the site of an extensive transformation.
Starting back in mid-August, workers began an ambitious project to level and resurface Harris Field. It involved using heavy equipment to shift and balance the park’s soil, installing a new irrigation system, and planting fresh sod on the entire 110,000-square-foot playing area.
“It’s safe to say this facility has never been in better shape,” LCSC athletic director Gary Picone said. “We’ve always tried to improve what we had, but this was sort of a complete re-do and a chance to start from scratch. We got to make it the way we wanted it.”
The resurfacing project became a reality, in large part, thanks to funding from P1FCU and its leadership team, including president and CEO Chris Loseth and executive vice president Patti Meshishnek. The project is the first of many major improvements Picone hopes to make to Harris Field. He eventually would like to replace the grandstand behind home plate and install a new video board in right field.
Even though LCSC’s baseball team had to move its fall workouts to other venues in the area during the recent renovation, players and coaches still spent countless hours toiling at the park. After all, they did provide the majority of the muscle for the project.
LCSC’s players and coaches planted the sod, and before that, they dug the ditches for the new sprinkler system and then spent hours carefully burying the pipes. Their efforts have saved the school tens of thousands of dollars on a project expected to cost more than $150,000.
“It’s the kind of project where, if you’re a player in this program, you get to say you helped build the field — literally,” Picone said. “Players here have always taken a certain amount of pride in caring for the facility, and these guys have had a unique opportunity. There’s a different appreciation for it now. They understand what it took to create that.”
The primary motivation for the project was to level the field, which gradually sloped downhill into the right-field corner (the change in elevation from home plate to the foul pole in right was about 4 feet). Prior to this undertaking, the playing surface had not undergone significant upgrades in more than a decade.
The first step in the process, after removing the old turf, involved “skinning” the field and utilizing heavy equipment to push dirt from the infield toward the right-field corner. After leveling the surface, players dug ditches, 18 inches in depth, for new sprinklers to replace a system that was about 25 years old. After the sprinkler pipe was set in place, they carefully covered it with dirt and hand-tamped a few thousand square feet of Harris Field soil.
Perhaps the most laborious part of the project, though, involved planting the new sod. It took a crew of 20 players and coaches more than four hours to unroll the first truckload of turf, which covered about 7,500 square feet. Eventually, they got to the point where a gang of seven could plant a load in two hours.
On most days, players unrolled two truckloads worth of turf. On one occasion, however, they unfolded three truckloads, or more than 22,000 square feet of sod, in a single day. In all, it took 11 days and 500 rolls of sod to cover Harris Field.
While the grass took root, the team constructed a new mound and brought additional dirt into the infield. Eventually, after more than two months of labor, Harris Field was again ready for baseball. On Oct. 27, the team staged its first practice of the fall on the fresh, pristine grass.
“When you come and play on this field now, it’s as good as it’s going to get,” Picone said. “I don’t think you can do any better anywhere else.”