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Baseball and softball fields in need of tune-up

The+Oakland+Baseball+Field+is+located+in+the+lower+fields%2C+next+to+the+Recreation+Center+and+the+soccer+field.
The Oakland Baseball Field is located in the lower fields, next to the Recreation Center and the soccer field.

The Oakland Baseball Field is located in the lower fields, next to the Recreation Center and the soccer field.

Mary Mitchell

Mary Mitchell

The Oakland Baseball Field is located in the lower fields, next to the Recreation Center and the soccer field.

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After 32 straight games on the road, the Oakland University baseball team finally hosted its home opener of the 2017 season on Tuesday, April 18. The team had its last two conference series moved to the opponent’s location due to inclement field conditions.

The softball team’s story isn’t much different. Thirty-three games into its season, the team has yet to open up the season on its true home field. Instead of traveling to the opponent’s field, softball has moved its home games to Madonna University’s field in Livonia.

Spending so much time on the road takes a toll on the players. While some of that is inevitable with playing an outdoor spring sport in Michigan, the location changes add to the number of missed classes, hours spent on the bus and lack of fan support for the program.

“I think [the hardest part] is the grind of riding the bus,” said junior baseball player Nate Schweers. “There’s a lot of teams in the north that have to do it, especially early in the season, but we’re pushing 30-plus games now, so it gets long.”

While being a baseball or softball program in Michigan comes with its unavoidable challenges, Oakland’s fields are an exceptional problem. This is not as much due to cold weather conditions as it is to field maintenance, as both fields sit at the bottom of hills.

“The history is that that entire lower level used to be a lake or a pond, and over the years, it went away,” said Deputy Athletics Director and Sport Administrator for the baseball team Padraic McMeel. “And there’s actually a stream deep underneath the baseball field . . . So it just doesn’t drain like a lot of other places could. Based on when we get rain, especially at baseball, it really does affect how quickly it dries.”

Because of this reality, the solution is to get turf fields, an estimated $2-million project, according to McMeel. The turf fields would allow for a much better drainage system and the ability to have home games at Oakland would be determined by the day’s weather, instead of the week’s precipitation, which is currently the case.

“The weather hasn’t been as cooperative in the months of March and April to allow for the field to dry up,” Schweers said. “It’s tough when two of your first three conference weekends are scheduled at home, and the weather in southeast Michigan just doesn’t cooperate. It’s not that different [from past years], it’s just a little more highlighted this year.”

McMeel agreed.

“This is an extremely frustrating year due to the rain that came through for the field,” he said. “In the past, we just had to worry about the field thawing, but we had rain come in at extremely untimely points, and that’s what kept us from the first two weekends.

“The best and almost only true solution would be to bring in a turf field, which is becoming bigger and bigger across the country. So, we are actually in the process of starting a fundraising campaign for baseball and softball turf.”

McMeel said the athletics department is looking to launch the campaign with some initial conversations in the next month or two.

“It has really been on the conversation docket for several years,” McMeel said. “But nobody has really stepped up to want to support it.”

The department has recently had some initial interest from people who may be willing to contribute. According to McMeel, it intends to split the project into phases, with the turf field getting completed as soon as possible and additional stadium renovations to follow as soon as the money is collected to do so, the cost of which is still being determined.

“It takes as long as it takes to actually fund it,” McMeel said. “So, as soon as someone says, ‘We are willing to fund it,’ we can start on it.”

Until then, the baseball and softball teams will continue to operate under their current limitations. The teams have some home games still left on their schedules. Baseball continues at home at 12 p.m. on Friday, April 21 with a doubleheader against Milwaukee. Softball hosts Toledo at 3:30 p.m. on April 26.

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