Leveling The Playing Field

By: Mikael Mogues

Omaha, Nebraska, Home to the College World Series and home of the Big East, Creighton Blue Jays. The Blue Jays had the least amount of errors in the nation in 2014, and in 2016 finished top three lowest in the nation. With 20 full time grounds keepers on staff at TD Ameritrade, imagine how the ball would play off that grass. Now not many programs have the resources to take care of their fields like TD Ameritrade. But has college baseball found a way of actually level the playing field?

No more pebbles in front of the shortstop, or huge debits in the batters box. The increase of turf fields has gone up since 2013. According to FieldTurf, “Division-I baseball programs in the NCAA have reported a reduction of up to 50% in fielding errors after switching to FieldTurf due to the true and consistent playability of the field.” Does turf in fact lead to a higher fielding percentage?

Taking a balanced look at all Division-1 college baseball teams within the state of jersey could provide information to the answer. There are three teams with turf field, Seton Hall, Rutgers, and Fairleigh Dickinson. There are five with natural grass, Princeton, NJIT, Monmouth, St. Peters, and Rider.

According to each schools final stat count, Rutgers, FDU, and Seton Hall all have a winning record at home. They also have an average of less errors (65) than the three lowest natural grass teams, Princeton, NJIT, and Monmouth (72).

Monmouth and Princeton were the only two teams that finished with a winning record with natural grass. Princeton has a two-man grounds crew and NJIT has a three-man field crew and plays at the former Newark Bears stadium. Monmouth, St Peters and Rider all self maintain their fields with player volunteer. These three teams have 90 errors or more.

Player preference is just as important as the field itself. Guys grow up learning to field ground balls on different surfaces. In a poll taken by 45 division-1 baseball players, from Arizona State, Eastern Michigan, Seton Hall, Louisville, and Old Dominion, found that the majority of Student Athletes preferred playing on grass. However, 31 of the player said that the turf plays more predictable, and agrees with the statement “it plays true.”

Lastly, field condition, when the season starts in February, grass can rarely be ready for play up north. The implementing of field turf, however, within the entire new England region, including new york, according to each team website, there is a pretty even split of turf to grass, with 16 turf fields and 20 grass fields for division-1 programs.

The college World Series is played on natural grass, but that doesn’t discourage programs from choosing between turf or grass. Many different reasons go into the decision including financial flexibility, multiple use fields, and the ability to have a grounds crew year around. When it is all said and done, defense need to make plays, regardless of the surface.   There’s an old saying that directly applies to this and that is, “It’s not the wand, it’s the magician.”

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