ANN ARBOR, Mich., Oct. 14, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- The Maize and Blue; the winged helmet; the Big House; the Fab Five - the American sports lexicon would be incomplete without the iconic footprint of Michigan Athletics. For their latest endeavor the Wolverines have teamed up with another icon of American sports, AstroTurf®. As part of the facility upgrades to its Wilpon Baseball and Softball Complex, the University of Michigan has paired with AstroTurf to install new state-of-the-art synthetic turf fields in both the baseball and softball stadiums. Site excavation is already underway and each of the brand new artificial playing surfaces will be rolled out in the following weeks.
The Wilpon Baseball and Softball Complex opened in 2008 and houses both Ray Fisher Stadium and Alumni Field. Massive renovations prior to its opening brought new locker room and training facilities with modern amenities, administrative offices, improved spectator seating, and an architectural overhaul. The result was a classically beautiful yet distinctly modern venue for baseball and softball that rivaled any in the country. But after a few years it became clear there was one issue of functionality that needed to be addressed – the natural grass fields. A February kickoff to the college season coupled with a Great Lakes Region climate meant that the fields were deluged with inclement weather and rarely available for games or practice until well into the spring. The answer was a new AstroTurf field.
Bulldozers, trucks, and dirt piles currently dominate the scene at Wilpon as the team at Eagle Excavation handles the all-important site work prior to field surfacing. This phase includes base construction and implementation of the extensive drainage systems which help enable the artificial surfaces to recover so quickly after heavy precipitation. Once completed, AstroTurf Construction Manager Brian O'Neal will then lead his crew in the installation of the new synthetic turf fields, starting with the softball playing surface at Alumni Field. The AstroTurf installation unit will then move on to Ray Fisher Stadium and lay down the brand new artificial playing surface for Michigan Baseball.
The innovative field to be installed at Ray Fisher Stadium is AstroTurf's Diamond Series™ artificial turf. These baseball systems have been designed to perform like natural fields, which entails replicating the playability of both grass and clay. Proprietary synthetic fibers and specialized infill ratios, developed through years of research and development, combine to give the surface its natural feel. Superior durability and tufted binding allow for shorter pile heights and greater sustained height variation between the grass and clay areas, producing a ball bounce consistent with the surface disparities of a typical baseball field. The Wolverines had the opportunity to play on one of these next generation AstroTurf baseball fields when they visited Kaufman Stadium back in April for a series against Indiana. UM Head Coach Erik Bakich also visited Vanderbilt's Hawkins Field on a day trip in the offseason to get up close and personal with one of AstroTurf's signature surfaces. It's safe to say those Diamond Series fields made a sparkling impression.
Of course Ray Fisher Stadium won't be the only diamond getting an AstroTurf makeover at Wilpon. Alumni Field, home of Michigan Softball, will also be upgraded. Although Alumni will retain a true clay skinned infield, the outfield grass and warning track will be resurfaced with the vanguard AstroTurf synthetic turf. The renovation process will also include dugout improvements and the addition of video boards to both baseball and softball facilities at Wilpon Baseball and Softball Complex. But it's the increased availability for practice time afforded by the new artificial turf that will be a real boon to the softball team.
The rest of the Big 10 might argue that head coach Carol Hutchins doesn't need any more advantages. Since arriving at Michigan in 1985, the softball program under Hutchins has never had a losing season. The Wolverines have won 16 of the last 21 Big 10 titles and made ten trips the Women's College World Series, including last year. After winning it all in 2005, the two-time national Coach of the Year recipient was elected to the NSCA Hall of Fame in 2006.
In contrast to Hutchins' more than quarter of a decade tenure, UM Baseball is under relatively new leadership with head coach Erik Bakich. After a solid first season at the helm, the new skipper hopes to build on last year and guide the Wolverines to a bright future consistent with its illustrious past. The baseball program at Michigan counts 36 Big 10 titles and two College World Series championships among its storied achievements. The Wolverines have sent a slew of stars to the majors, including recently inducted Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin, as well as one of the MLB's most inspirational figures, pitcher Jim Abbott.
AstroTurf's relationship with America's pastime spans nearly fifty years, dating back to the national introduction of synthetic turf with Houston's AstroDome in 1965. The next two decades witnessed an emergence of artificial fields throughout Major League Baseball, as new stadiums insisted on AstroTurf and old facilities converted. Memories of the iconic teams and players of that era are inseparable from the unmistakable surface they played on – the dominating Big Red Machine, George Brett chasing .400, and Ozzie Smith cartwheeling into his famous backflip. The first of five World Series to be played entirely on artificial turf took place in 1980, the last with Joe Carter's walk-off winner in the SkyDome in 1993. Starting with the opening of Oriole Park at Camden Yard in 1992, the new stadium revolution began and natural grass became the overwhelming trend for these modern parks.
Today, great strides have been made in turf technology and AstroTurf has once again positioned itself as the leader of the baseball market. By synthesizing proprietary technology with innovative design concepts and engaging coaches in the developmental process, AstroTurf has engineered the next generation of baseball-specific synthetic turf. These new fields combine the look, feel, and playability of not only natural grass, but of clay with specially designed surfacing for base paths and warning tracks. But unlike natural grass, these fields require far less maintenance. In addition, the advanced drainage systems and durable surfacing allow teams to play and practice in difficult weather conditions, a huge plus for college teams whose seasons begin much earlier than their professional counterparts. As a result of this re-imagined inception of the pioneering brand, AstroTurf is once again rising to the forefront of the synthetic turf industry throughout the baseball landscape. The company also holds strong as the Official Synthetic Turf of Major League Baseball. And since installing its first next-generation collegiate field at Wichita State in 2009, AstroTurf has installed more Division I baseball diamonds than any other synthetic turf manufacturer.
For athletes and sport enthusiasts, AstroTurf has redefined the way the game is played. The company offers advanced, state-of-the-art, multi-sport and specialized synthetic turf systems with proprietary engineered technologies, leveraging the industry's first vertically integrated manufacturing system. A growing number of high schools, colleges, professional sports teams and municipalities continue to select AstroTurf-branded products for their premium quality, technical superiority, and safety. To learn more, visit www.astroturf.com.