Benefield: For Elsie Allen baseball, home is where the heartache is
“Have you seen ‘Pirates of the Caribbean?’’ Matt Kasch, first-year baseball coach at Elsie Allen, asks me.
He was trying to convey just how bad the wind screens attached to the Lobos’ outfield fences look.
“It’s like the sails on the Black Pearl.”
True to his word, the threadbare screens, riven and translucent with age and damage, flapped in the breeze during a recent practice.
The center field fence is broken from its moors and leans precariously into the field.
But all that isn’t what bothers Kasch most.
What bothers him most is the infield. The infield of Lobo field is an undulating patch of grass with deep divots and wide dead spots where no grass grows. The base paths are bordered less by tight, groomed grass than patches of dirt where even weeds refuse to thrive.
“The varsity field is almost not even presentable,” Kasch said. “It’s embarrassing.”
Now it’s just to note that baseball coaches are notorious for wanting their fields looking and playing just so, but a meander across the Lobos’ infield proves Kasch has a point.
This is not a showplace. The players say a routine grounder to shortstop can suddenly find itself on its way to right field.
“Here you have to worry about getting hit in the face, getting hit in other places,” senior Caleb Romero said. “It happens a lot.”
“A lot of schools, field-wise, are a lot better than this,” he said. “Our field is known for bad hops. Home field advantage is not home field advantage.”
Aside from the hops, coaches will admit it — the look of the field is a pride thing. Maybe even a vanity thing.
But they work for it.
More than one coach I talked to said that being a baseball skipper means being a part time landscaper. And while baseball is a spring sport, landscaping is a year-round gig.
As if on cue, when I wandered unannounced onto Montgomery High’s field Sunday, I found three men and two teens on bended knee laying PVC pipe between second and third bases. On the Vikings’ home field, where the grass meets the infield dirt was sharp and tight and the guys working Sunday had the tans on the back of their necks to prove it.
Across town, Piner High’s field is gorgeous. The infield grass looks like it’s been looked after with more care than the greens at St. Andrews. The windscreens are maroon and the protective bumpers that line the top of the outfield fence are gold — Prospector colors.
Kasch, who played his prep baseball at Casa Grande High School and who last year was an assistant coach at Piner, said he’s wrestled with unforeseen problems on Elsie’s field since he was hired in late August.
Without a coach’s oversight, the field was not receiving care over the summer and drought-inspired policies likely left it without water, he said. When he got the job, Kasch got to work with a watering schedule and fertilizer. He made some headway.
Then a pipe just behind the pitcher’s mound broke, flooding a good section of the infield for weeks. The damage is still visible, can still be felt underfoot.
“Our infield is almost completely unplayable because there are so many different holes. It becomes a liability,” he said. “My main concern is getting the infield safe.”