Baseball is back — sort of

Grafton boys getting used to longer stopping distance on new turf field
Ozaukee Press staff

Josh Merkle will never play a game on the new turf field at Grafton High School, but he was still thrilled to be able to practice on it.

Merkle, who graduated this year, was slated to be the catcher on a team loaded with pitching talent that would have played on its new turf field.

The coronavirus ended all that, with the spring baseball season canceled once Gov. Tony Evers decided to close schools through June 30.

But spring sports teams were allowed 30 contact days starting July 1, as long as they included the seniors. Merkle was one of those.

“I’m just glad we can be out on the field and we have something the WIAA allows us to do,” he said. “I was hoping we’d get something, and we did.”

That allows the Black Hawks to practice on their new turf infield, and practice is what they need to get used to it, especially sliding into bases.

Gone are the days of grass and dirt stains on the jerseys, as well as starting the sliding process near the bag.

Turf, Merkle said, allows for longer glides, which base runners must figure out.

“It’s a big adjustment,” Merkle said. “Younger guys are going to go way past the bag.”

Incoming junior Evan Wagner noticed the same thing. He learned to start his slide about five feet sooner  than on dirt and hang on to the bag so he doesn’t go too far.

That’s not the only new alteration to home games on turf.

For Merkle, catching would have been a little bit easier.

“It’s a lot nicer for blocking. The ball’s not going to hit a patch of dirt and go where it feels like it,” he said.

For Wagner, who plays infield, outfield and pitcher, he has noticed more consistency.

“You get a lot more true bounces. You don’t get a lot of bad hops,” he said. “I like the turf.”

Wagner said he likes the look as well, especially the two-tone green.

“The infield’s pretty. It looks like it’s freshly mowed,” Wagner said, adding a bystander who saw the field asked if it was real.

“It feels good but it’s just disappointing we’ve just got this,” he said of practicing without a season.

Longtime coach Brian Durst said he is feeling more like himself again now that he is back on the baseball field. Something in his life, he said, had been missing.

He loves the new field and last Friday had five groups of four players rotating through different hitting sessions. One group was in the batting cage, two batters were hitting whiffle balls into the net behind home plate and one each was hitting to left and right field.

“Just think about how much extra space we’re using,” Durst said.

He was impressed with the number of players who regularly show up for four days of practice per week, especially the seniors who have graduated. Some are also playing in Senior League baseball and on travel teams.

The new turf, Durst said, provides a nice surface.

“It’s smooth, still spongy. It’s got a lot of life,” he said.

The team missed out on what could have been a special season. The Hawks had North Shore Conference first-team pitcher Tommy Lamb, a lefty who will pitch for the University of Alabama next year, and right-handed Jacob Aleknavicius, who earned honorable mention recognition, back for their senior seasons.

A group of parents, Wagner said, are trying to organize a fall league that would use the field but not be affiliated with the school.




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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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Port Washington, WI 53074
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