Softball players in Sun City West may have extra spring in their steps this season.
A new red AstroTurf infield at Liberty Field may become a sole mate for players in the Sun Cities Senior Softball League, which begins regular-season play Tuesday.
“At our ages, softball is a game of risk,” said Dick Lemoine, president of the Sun City West Softball Club. “This new field reduces the risk, and it should help us play a game we love even longer.”
The Sun City West Softball Club will dedicate the new red Astroturf infield during a ceremony and celebration beginning at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Liberty Field, 14401 R.H. Johnson Blvd.
Many of the club’s funds come from sponsors, who will be honored at the ceremony, along with Sun City West softball legends, current players and hall of famers. A surprise first-pitch guest will provide another highlight to the festivities.
The club will serve hot dogs, potato salad and beans.
In addition to improved safety, Lemoine said the $160,000 infield will reduce annual maintenance costs, cause fewer weather-related delays and lower water use. The outfield will remain natural grass.
Switching to a red field has helped the softball club go green.
“It’s also going to cut down on the dust around the field,” said Jim Lord, a senior softball player. “We would rake and drag the old infield every few innings and the dust would blow on the players and even reach the people in the stands.”
The idea for the new artificial turf infield surfaced in May 2010 when several Sun Cities tournament players returned from events in Sparks, Nev., and Lacey, Wash.
Both tournaments were played on artificial turf infields.
“Guys kept talking about how much they liked those fields,” Lemoine said.
George Karras, the club’s field maintenance manager, subsequently began an informal study of artificial playing surfaces.
He discovered that Scottsdale Christian Academy had an artificial surface on the school’s multipurpose field and made arrangements for Sun Cities players to test it.
“Our guys came back from that trip as AstroTurf evangelists,” Lemoine said.
The club placed the issue before its members and more than 60 percent voted to pursue having an artificial turf field installed in Sun City West.
Bob Peck, Lemoine’s predecessor, made a presentation to the Recreation Centers of Sun City West board of directors in May. The board approved the $160,000 project and provided the club with a $70,000 interest-free loan to help fund the work.
Lemoine said the club received a similar loan when it built a clubhouse at Liberty Field and repaid that loan in 18 months. He said he expects a similar 18-month timeframe to repay the latest loan.
“I am talking about the new AstroTurf field because I am now the president of the club,” Lemoine said. “But the real work to put the project together was done by George Karras and Bob Peck. And a lot of credit goes to the Recreation Centers of Sun City West, from the board of directors to all the staff that made this happen.”
Workers installed the new field in August.
The dirt infield was removed and 6 inches of gravel placed below the surface. Workers then installed the AstroTurf.
“It rolls out just like carpet,” Lemoine said.
Artificial playing surfaces became popular at many multipurpose sports facilities in the 1970s. Stadiums such as Riverfront in Cincinnati and Three Rivers in Pittsburgh used artificial turf for NFL and major-league baseball games. However, the ease of maintenance at the multiuse stadiums was often overshadowed by criticisms from athletes about rock-hard playing surfaces that proved to be tough on knees and joints. When players dove on the surface, they often got up with abrasions on their skin known as “turf burns.”
Scientific advancements have improved artificial turf technology, Lemoine said.
The AstroTurf at Liberty Field incorporates modern features such as antimicrobial protection, rubber infill, backing systems and nylon yarn fibers and plastic.
The rubber beads in the AstroTurf give it a soft, bouncy feel that is gentle on the joints and doesn’t cause abrasions when players dive to catch a ball, Lemoine said.
“We have a field that is set up for senior softball, not for pro baseball players,” Lemoine said of the infield, which comes with an eight-year guarantee from the manufacturer. “If we wanted to make the surface harder, we could add sand.”
Lemoine said minor field adjustments may be made after play begins next week. Feedback from players will be the impetus for any changes.
The softball club and the Recreation Centers of Sun City West also have found ways to make use of the dirt from the old infield.
The softball club used some of it to construct a 15-foot outfield warning track, another addition that should improve player safety.
The rec centers kept the rest of the dirt and has used it at various locations throughout the community.
The rec centers also purchased additional AstroTurf, which will later be used to replace worn spots on the infield turf, most notably in the batter’s box and pitcher’s area.
One sad note leading up to Saturday’s celebration is that Karras will not be there to participate in the event.
He died in September 2010.