JOLIET – The Slammers play their home opener Tuesday night, and it is likely to be the last time the team opens a season on a field of grass.
Team President Nick Semaca was telling the Joliet City Council the value of synthetic turf on Monday as the Slammers were putting the last preseason touches on the stadium for the 7:05 p.m. opener against the Traverse City Beach Bums.
Semaca talked about traveling baseball tournaments, minor league soccer and concerts in the city-owned stadium that has been almost exclusively used for baseball since it was built in 2002.
“It’s a lot of different events that we can bring into the facility because we will have a playing surface that can be used for a lot more than baseball,” Semaca told the council at its workshop meeting Monday.
Grass fields can’t take the wear and tear of synthetic turf, which can be used not only for multiple sports, but more than one event a day, Semaca said.
Semaca wasn’t exactly trying to sell the council on the idea of artificial turf, which has already been in the works for months at city hall.
The City Council has not given the final OK on the project, which is estimated to cost between $1.2 million and $1.6 million.
But the Joliet City Council Public Service Committee on Monday approved a $126,100 contract with Wight & Company to do the engineering needed to install artificial turf in the fall or, if the project gets delayed, by early spring.
“In either case, we have to have it in by next season,” Public Works Director James Trizna told the committee.
The plan is for the city to pay for the job up front and then collect money from a property tax levied against businesses in and around the downtown area over the next 10 years to recoup the cost.
“Once that field’s in there it’s just going to create more multi-use,” Councilman Larry Hug said. “That’s going to bring bodies to the businesses that are in the TIF and the SSA.”
The city plans to recover the money from the tax increment financing district and special service area created for downtown and neighboring business corridors.
Semaca in his presentation pointed to examples of other cities that use stadiums for what is called sports tourism, generating travel business by hosting tournaments for traveling and other events.
Prince George County, Virginia, he said, filled 1,000 hotel rooms and generated $1 million in economic impact with a national softball tournament last year, Semaca said.
“We think we can do that,” Semaca said. “We think we can attract marquee events that will bring people from all over the country.”
The Slammers are targeting 10 baseball travel tournaments for next year, which, Semaca said, would bring more than 100 teams to town.
Slammers fans coming to the ballpark Tuesday won’t see anything as dramatic as the new turf planned for next year.
The tops of the dugouts are being painted, changing the somewhat worn-out appearance of the aging tarps that were on them last year.
Fans who enjoy adult beverages at the ballpark may be most interested to know that the Slammers are adding a second bar this season. A bar was placed in the concourse area last year.
“It was full every game,” General Manager Heather Mills said. “It was the hit of the year.”
The new bar is going behind the left-field wall, although it’s not there yet. Mills said the team hopes to have it open by June.
Some new items have been added at the concessions, including meals in a bread cone. The stadium also will have a cheesecake cone.
On the topic of synthetic turf, Mills described herself as “a baseball purist” but a business realist.
“I love the grass,” she said. “But from a business standpoint – well, like today, we can’t use it. As much as I like the grass, artificial turf is the way to go business-wise.”