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Field of nightmares

Lack of proper drainage could soak the Curve

May 15, 2008
By Cory Giger,
The Altoona Curve franchise has endured one of its worst-case scenarios during the past two days.
The team is in business to stage baseball games, yet it has been forced to postpone play at Blair County Ballpark because of muddy conditions on the infield.
Poor weather hasn’t been the problem. It was sunny and warm all day Tuesday and pleasant Wednesday, aside from a brief rain shower.
The games against the Akron Aeros had to be canceled because the infield was not covered by a tarp when pounded by showers in recent days. The field took on a lot of water, and a problem with the drainage system led to unplayable conditions.
The infield is so moist that your feet sink into the dirt when walking on it.
‘‘It’s been a tough stretch,’’ Curve general manager Todd Parnell said Wednesday afternoon, a look of exasperation on his face.
It also could turn out to be a very costly stretch.
The franchise expects about 7,500 school kids for today’s 10:35 a.m. doubleheader, which will have to be canceled if the field doesn’t improve. If that happens, the three-day washout could cost the Curve about $125,000.
That estimate, based on discussions with industry insiders, is derived from ticket sales, parking and concessions for the three days. About 3,000 fans were in attendance Tuesday, and a crowd in the mid-3,000s had been expected Wednesday.

Having to postpone today’s game, though, would be the crusher, because the Curve would lose out on the large amount of money typically spent by school kids.

Money isn’t the only thing the Curve might stand to lose this week. The franchise’s stellar reputation also could take a hit for failing to deliver baseball games in nearly ideal weather.

‘‘Our track record speaks for itself, and people respect us for a reason,’’ Parnell said. ‘‘People that know us know everything that we’re doing.’’

The Curve grounds crew was prepared to spend all night at the ballpark if necessary to get the field ready for today.

‘‘Obviously this is a tough thing to go through,’’ head groundskeeper “Irish’’ Patrick Coakley said.

Coakley decided not to put the tarp on the field late last week so it could get some needed rainwater.

It didn’t stop raining until Monday, but Coakley noted the tarp couldn’t go on a wet infield because it never would have dried.

Coakley said he would not do anything differently if presented with the same situation. The root of the problem, he said, is with the field itself.

The infield is made up of 4¢ inches of dirt on top of a natural surface of shale and clay. Coakley dug through the infield dirt and found a hard bottom that wasn’t allowing water to seep through and drain.

‘‘Everything that went into the middle of that infield just sat there,’’ he said.

The Curve plan to alleviate the problem by drilling hundreds of holes down about a foot into the natural surface and opening up passages for the water.

‘‘We’re going to keep every single person here all night long and do everything we can,’’ Parnell said. ‘‘We’re completely committed to making sure we can play [this morning].’’

Coakley said the Curve will need a new playing surface with a better drainage system to prevent a recurrence of the situation. Still, he said, everything he and his crew have done so far should have worked.

‘‘We’re mystified by it,’’ Parnell said.

Cory Giger is at 949-7031 and

Article Photos

Curve staff cover the infield at Blair County Ballpark at 3:50 a.m. Thursday. They removed the tarp around 4:30 a.m. after a brief shower and continued efforts to prepare the field. The Curve played Thursday as scheduled, though extra attention was given to the field between innings. (Mirror staff photo)

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