JOLIET – The new artificial turf was getting stitched on quickly last week with a prediction that the field at Joliet Route 66 Stadium could be ready by Wednesday.
But no one was setting a hard date, as forecasts of thunderstorms, rain and even snow through the weekend threatened to slow down a schedule that has been beset by fickle weather.
On Thursday, when the sun was shining and the temperature was in the 70s, Joliet Slammers facilities director Tom Fremarek was feeling pretty good about the carpets of green artificial grass being spread across the stadium.
“It’s awesome,” Fremarek said. “The place looks beautiful.”
Turf installation started Tuesday after having been stalled for weeks past an original estimated start date of March 5. Cold, rain and snow all combined to keep the turf off the field.
“The majority of it has been Mother Nature putting our backs against the wall,” Fremarek said.
Now, Slammers season ticket holders are showing up to take pictures of the new turf. Slammers employees hired to work for the season, which starts May 15, have been showing up early just to check out the turf, Fremarek said.
“Everything’s falling into place,” he said.
The Slammers manage the city-owned stadium.
Both the city and the Slammers wanted artificial turf, a more durable surface that can be used for more events than a grass field. City officials also hope to see other sports, including soccer, played at the stadium. The outfield wall has been pushed back to make room for a soccer field.
The new turf surface will include colored dots in the outfield that can used to measure lines for soccer games and other sports without being too distracting when the field is used for baseball.
“It makes it easy for them to paint the lines, but it’s not in your face in the outfield,” said Jonathan Huard, regional sales manager for Illinois for Field Turf, the company installing the new field.
Huard said the project is moving quickly now because the company can send a big crew to Joliet.
“That’s our first project of the year,” he said. “That’s the only one that carried over the winter.”
Most artificial turf surfaces are installed at high school stadiums during the summer. The warm, dry weather of the summer provides more ideal conditions for the job. But baseball season schedules require turf installation in the fall or early spring.
Huard was not promising that the job would be done this week, although he said the May 15 home opener is a sure thing.
“Things can go quickly if we’re able to stay out there consistently and get full days there,” he said.
Depending on how quickly things go, the University of St. Francis still will get to use the new field.
The stadium is home field for USF baseball. But the team has been playing at Joliet Junior College and Standard Bank Stadium in Crestwood, which is home to the Windy City Thunderbolts, one of the Slammers’ rivals in the Frontier League.
“Obviously, we’re hoping that we’ll play some games there, but we understand the nature of construction,” said Brian Michalak, head coach for the USF team. “If they give us the go-ahead, we’re ready to get in there.”
USF has five home games remaining. The next one is Wednesday, which is scheduled for King Field at Joliet Junior College. The last three are an April 28 doubleheader and a May 1 game, all of which still are on the schedule for Joliet Route 66 Stadium.
The ‘dirt look’
No one is guaranteeing the field will be ready for last few games, but it’s looking good.
“I’m shocked at how quickly they’re getting it done,” Slammers general manager Heather Mills said. “It looks great. I’m really happy with the colors the city chose – the dark green. I also like the dirt. I call it the freshly watered dirt look.”
The dirt is not dirt. It’s the same artificial fiber as the grass but a different color.
The project still requires some warm weather for the next step, which is to glue in the white fibers that mark foul territory, the batter’s box and other lines on the field.
After that, the infill is raked into the turf, and the job is done. It’s a pretty simple three-step process once the weather is favorable, Huard said.
“Usually, everyone’s excitable until the green starts going down,” Huard said. “Then everyone breathes a sigh of relief.”