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Field(s) of Dreams: New Hillsdale complex among best in Ohio

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Field(s) of Dreams: New Hillsdale complex among best in Ohio

JEROMESVILLE — Mother Nature has made a mess of things all across north central Ohio this spring, but the miserable weather hasn’t had much of an impact on the Hillsdale baseball and softball programs.

Rainouts are largely a thing of the past for the Falcons.

Hillsdale unveiled its new artificial surface baseball and softball diamonds this spring. The athletic complex is part of the broader new PK-12 campus project that is scheduled to be complete for the start of the 2023-24 school year.

The new school building and athletic facilities were made possible through revenue created by the Rover Pipeline project. The Rover Pipeline is 713-mile dual natural gas pipeline that runs from West Virginia to Michigan, passing through Wayne, Ashland and Richland Counties along the way.

Most area baseball and softball teams have struggled to get games in during an unusually wet and cold spring, but Hillsdale is the exception. The softball team has played 16 games, while the baseball team has played 17 as of April 29.

“We’ve played just about everything on our schedule unless it was too cold,” athletic director Jodi Long said. “I’ve gotten a lot of community feedback from our parents and fans and they love it.

“Our baseball parents are especially excited. They didn’t have a home field last year.”

Construction on the new PK-12 building last spring forced the baseball team to embark on a season-long road trip. Hillsdale played its home games at PNC Fields in Wooster.

“Last year was a nightmare. Our home games were in Wooster,” Long said. “The baseball parents are telling me, ‘At least we’re playing home games this year.’

"I get that because last year was a pain.”

The infields of Hillsdale’s competition baseball and softball diamonds are carpeted in artificial turf, while the outfields are natural grass. Two other natural-surface fields — one baseball and one softball — are in the works and could be completed as early as this summer.

The four-field project also calls for accessible restroom facilities and a concession stand. There has been some discussion of installing lights, but nothing has been finalized.

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For high school athletes and coaches, the new complex may as well be a field of dreams.

“As a baseball player, you always dream of playing in a facility like this. It’s amazing,” senior Caden Fickes said. “With all the rain we’ve had this spring, we’re probably the only team in the area that doesn’t really have to worry about rainouts.”

The spring sports season is the most compressed of all seasons during the school year. Teams try to squeeze 27 regular season games into a season that traditionally begins during the final week of March and concludes by mid-May. Rainouts often lead to a backlog of games, causing all sorts of headaches for coaches.

“There are teams being asked to play five, six, seven days in a row. There aren’t many high school baseball teams that have pitching staffs deep enough to do that, especially at the small-school level like us,” Hillsdale baseball coach Jason Snow said. “When you start stacking games up and you’re trying to save certain guys for league games, it becomes difficult.

“It’s great to know that, if the rain stops, we’re going to be able to play. We never have to worry if our field will be ready.”

Hillsdale is the only school in the Wayne County Athletic League with artificial surface baseball and softball fields. There are only a handful of high school teams around the state playing on carpet, which makes the new venue a likely candidate to host Ohio High School Athletic Association-sanctioned district and regional tournaments.

“We haven’t talked to the OHSAA about hosting tournaments in the spring yet,” Long said. “They did reach out about football (last fall) but with the parking issues and the chaos associated with an active construction site, we decided we couldn’t do it. We’re probably a couple years away from being able to host.

“There are some logistics that we still have to work out, but it would be nice to be able to host some of those events.”

The complex could also become the home of the Hillsdale summer youth program. Youth teams currently play at aging facilities in Hayesville and Jeromesville.

“Everything is so crazy as they try to get the project completed, but we have discussed how the complex could potentially be a money-maker,” Long said. “For the time being we will just be playing high school baseball and softball at the complex.”

While the complex isn’t yet complete, the early returns among visiting teams and administrators have been favorable.

“We hosted a team last week and the athletic director said they would be glad to come back to our place again next year,” Long said. “We’ve heard from a lot of fans from other schools they love it.

“We don’t have enough parking right now and it’s a long walk (from the current high school parking lot) to the new fields. We’re still a work in progress, but everyone I’ve spoken to is excited to see what it will look like once the work is completed.”

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I have covered high school sports in Richland County since 2000. Email him at curt@richlandsource.com or follow him on Twitter: Follow @curtjconrad on twitter.

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