When Dan Csaplar ’16 was a freshman infielder, he lined up to play a hard ground ball only to have it hit a divot in the recently thawed Coombs Field infield. “It popped up in my face and I had to take eight stiches in my lip,” he recalled. The following year Csaplar and teammates played three home games. Three. That’s all that snow cover and weather permitted on Mayflower Hill that year. “We played our home series against Trinity at Trinity. So even though we were in Connecticut, we were the home team,” he said, his voice rising quizzically.
Csaplar, now a team captain, is happy to watch those memories recede in the rear view as Colby’s new baseball and softball complex, with an artificial turf field for each sport, saw the first regular-season softball and baseball games March 30 and 31 respectively. With wins all around.
Photos from the dedication events are online here.
Colby is the first NESCAC school with artificial turf fields for both sports. “It’s been a tremendous addition for our programs,” said Tim Wheaton, Colby’s Harold Alfond Director of Athletics. “In previous years, when our baseball and softball teams went on spring break training trips, it was often the first time anyone had fielded a live fly ball, and this year they’d had weeks of training outside beforehand.”
“It’s not even comparable to last season,” said Victoria Sanson ’16, a softball captain who plays first base. It’s not just the preseason, where the team practiced outside from the official start of the season, she said. The number of postponements, cancellations, and moves to other fields was disheartening in the past. Now, with the closeness to the baseball field and the fans behind home plate, “When you’re on the field there’s a whole new feeling,” she said.
While it’s too early to talk about impact on recruiting top students for whom varsity softball or baseball is important, there is the case of first-year softball head coach Lisa-Ann Wallace. Wallace, who did most of her early coaching in New England, was in the sunny, dry Southwest when Colby searched for a new head coach. She knew about weather, climate, and field issues when she responded. “It was a huge decision for me to leave the University of New Mexico,” she said. “But, for me, the fact that Colby had made a commitment to the program as shown in the facilities—I realized that they would like to take this program to the next level, and I was in.”
In 2015 the softball team left for spring break having never seen a fly ball. They played five games down south, all of which counted in their record, all of which were losses. After returning to campus, they completed just four home games.
Different story this year: “Since February eighteenth we’ve been outside,” Wallace said March 29. “I’ve had only three practices indoors. Huge impact.” With three wins from the spring break trip under their belts, on March 30 the team won both games of a doubleheader against University of Maine, Farmington—the first varsity softball games played on Mayflower Hill in the month of March in the 21st century.
Colby baseball players had similar stories. “To date we’ve had approximately ten practices on the field,” said head baseball coach Dale Plummer March 30. That’s a lot, considering the team was in Arizona for 11 games over spring break. “It’s key for our infielders and outfielders to see some real fly balls before the spring trip,” Plummer said, adding that it’s also important for coaches to see what first-year players look like outdoors.
“Today was the first time I have seen the entire field with the new windscreen and fence up,” Plummer said. “It looks better than I could have imagined. … This playing surface is one of the finest in the country.”
“It’s an amazing asset for the department and the College,” Wheaton said. “A great example of how the Colby community, our parents, and alums can come together to provide resources that can not only benefit the College but the community and the programs around us.” He used the word “example” intentionally, with a major athletic center construction project in the planning stages.
Beyond their impact on Colby students, the fields will be a great asset in the central Maine community. “The Thomas College teams have been using the fields, and we have scheduled local and Little League baseball and softball to use the fields during their seasons as well,” Wheaton said. “Our hope is that they get used more and more for games and tournaments and events going forward.”