CEDAR RAPIDS – The grass was impeccably manicured, the bleachers sparkled, and the rolling green hills provided a picturesque setting for an early-summer baseball game.
But the most impressive thing about the first day at Linn-Mar High School’s new baseball complex was that, after experiencing rainfall overnight, they could play a game there at all.
“The drainage is a lot better,” athletics director Scott Mahmens said. “In the old field, if we got any rain, we had water puddles sitting in the outfield. We had rain overnight, and the field was wet, but we could play on it.”
Linn-Mar is hosting the season-opening Bob Vrbicek Metro Tournament, which began on Monday and runs through Wednesday. And while the Lions had been practicing all pre-season in their $3 million new home, the team was excited to begin playing in it for real. Head coach Chad Lechner said the stadium lighting would be the most significant difference.
“The lights were 30 or 35 years old,” he said. “An old guy like me can see the ball at night now. I had troubles with that in the old field, and we’d have kids lose the ball up in the air at night.”
Senior outfielder Cole Gross said he remembered losing the ball in the lights “many, many times” throughout his career, but that you could see the ball better at the new stadium. And fellow outfielder Devin Bettmann couldn’t wait to finally show off that new advantage.
“I think the excitement is there for everybody,” he said. “Everyone’s getting hyped up for the game and for the stadium. It’s just a nice facility.”
The lights aren’t the only improvement on the new field. Groundskeeper Grant Stein said the grass is cut a full inch shorter, and that the infield is made with “the same stuff they use in the big leagues.” And while the team’s players did a lot of maintenance work at the old ballpark, Stein and a grounds crew keep the new field fresh.
“We spend quite a bit more time on it,” he said.
Xavier routed Jefferson in the first game on the new turf, hitting three home runs and recording 13 hits in a 12-1 victory. Senior Corbin Woods launched two homers over fences that head coach Dave Schemmel called “college-length” — 406 feet to center field, and 326 on either side. The Saints used a five-run third inning to jump out to a lead, and never looked back.
Schemmel pointed out with a grin that his team hit the first few home runs at the new field.
“It’s a very nice park,” he said. “You’re talking about the difference between a high school park and a college park.”
In the first game in the new stadium, Linn-Mar edged Prairie, 4-3. But before the game, while Lechner watched players warming up on the field, he nodded in appreciation at what he saw.
“Hard to believe, but it’s even better than I thought it would be,” he said. “I knew how nice it was going to be, but to finally see it ready for action, I couldn’t ask for more. We can’t wait to get going.”