With a deeper fence than Target Field ... Is Cadwell Park too big?The dimensions of Cadwell Park are ingrained in Phil Johnson’s memory. “It’s 340 down the lines, 374 in the gaps and 420 straight away,” he said, referring to the feet measurements from home plate to various points in the outfield fence. “It’s a pitcher’s ballpark.
By: Luke Hagen, The Daily Republic
The dimensions of Cadwell Park are ingrained in Phil Johnson’s memory.
“It’s 340 down the lines, 374 in the gaps and 420 straight away,” he said, referring to the feet measurements from home plate to various points in the outfield fence. “It’s a pitcher’s ballpark. It was always one of those things that when someone hit one out, you really got to watch the ball fly. There are no cheap home runs hit there.”
Johnson has played countless games at the spacious park, Mitchell’s premier baseball diamond. It has a center field fence that’s 9 feet deeper than the Minnesota Twins’ Target Field.
Johnson grew up playing on Cadwell. He was on Mitchell’s high school and Legion baseball teams and was a four-year pitcher for Dakota Wesleyan University, which uses Cadwell and another field in the complex for its home games.
Now 25 years old and a member of the Dimock/Emery amateur baseball team, Johnson loves the trip he makes to Cadwell at least once a year, usually for the state amateur baseball tournament. He said it’s one of the best baseball fields in the state.
Johnson wants to keep Cadwell the way it is, and some others agree.
But with the recent change to bat regulations in nearly all levels of baseball, some believe the fences at Cadwell are too deep and need to be brought in to spark more offense.
“I wouldn’t mind seeing them coming in a little ways,” said Mitchell Baseball Association President Jim Larson. “But I’m not really sure what a competitive distance would be. … In the long term, we could make some adjustments to make it more competitive.”
Bat changes equal fewer homers
The Mitchell high school baseball team didn’t hit a home run this season at Cadwell Park.
Before the start of the season, the South Dakota High School Baseball Association made a switch so all games would be played with wood or wood-composite bats instead of aluminum.
With wood bats, players have less opportunity to hit the ball on the “sweet spot,” or portion of the bat that gives the ball the most trampoline-like effect.
Only once was there a home run hit in a high school game at Cadwell this year, when Mitchell defeated Watertown 8-3 in the first game of a doubleheader in mid-April.
Despite the lack of home run numbers, Mitchell high school and Legion coach Luke Norden is in favor of keeping Cadwell the way it is.
“Some people think they would need to move it in to give the opportunity to hit more home runs,” Norden said. “I don’t think it’s that big of a deal.”
This year in Legion baseball, players are mandated to use BBCOR bats, which are aluminum bats that act like wood bats because of the way the manufacturers deaden the trampoline effect.
College baseball teams in the NCAA and NAIA have been using BBCOR bats since the start of the 2011 season.
In South Dakota amateur baseball, players are forced to use wood bats this year for the first time. Last year, Class A amateur teams had to use wood bats, while Class B teams could use any aluminum bat.
Canova amateur pitcher/infielder Lincoln Gassman said he’s seeing power numbers drop with the change this summer. He’s in favor of moving in the fences.
“I know the home run total throughout the amateur league has gone down tremendously,” said Gassman, who helped Canova to a Class B state amateur baseball championship on Cadwell Park in 2009 but has never homered at Cadwell. “Even if you move the fence in 20 to 30 feet all the way around, it would still make it more enjoyable to play in. With fewer home runs, you can tell it’s a little less entertaining for the fans.”
Cadwell’s deep dimensions
Target Field, the new Minnesota Twins stadium that is considered by many to be a pitcher’s park, was completed in 2010. Left-center field is the deepest part of the field, at 411 feet.
Cadwell Park’s longest distance from home plate is 420 feet.
In the major leagues, 26 of 30 fields measure at least 400 feet to center field, but Cadwell Park’s deepest distance is farther than all but three major league fields. The Houston Astros’ Minute Maid Park is the deepest field in the major leagues at 436 feet. The San Francisco Giants and Detroit Tigers both match Cadwell at 420 at their deepest marks.
“There aren’t many fields in the area that have the dimensions that Cadwell has,” DWU baseball coach Steve Gust said. “It gives it some character.”
Construction on Cadwell Park began in 1967. Numerous improvements have been made to the diamond over the years, but the deep fences always been a trademark.
Jim Johnston, the state amateur baseball tournament director, has headed the T-shirt giveaway at the state tournament when a player hits a home run. While rounding the bases, the player is notified that he earned an “I went deep at Cadwell Park” T-shirt, symbolizing the difficulty of the achievement. Johnston said an average of 40 shirts are handed out each year, but with the switch to wood bats this year, he expects to see declining numbers.
“You certainly don’t want to bring in the fence and make it a home run derby, but when you go to a baseball game, you want the opportunity to see a home run,” Johnston said. “It’s a fine line.”
What would it take to change it?
City of Mitchell Parks and Recreation Director Dusty Rodiek said changing Cadwell Park is not being considered currently.
Although he has heard people mention how deep the dimensions are, there has been nothing concrete brought to the park board to discuss moving the fences in.
“My job is to respond to community needs,” Rodiek said. “If the community as a whole thinks it’s important, we’ll work toward that goal.”
Chuck Jones, the city’s park and recreation field operations supervisor, said cost is one of the largest factors in deciding whether or not to move the field in.
There’s an irrigation system that runs near the warning track that would have to be moved in with the fence, and the cost would be high, Jones said. Moving the fences would also require removing the panels and foul poles from solid concrete that was poured to hold in the fencing.
“That fence has been out there a long time,” Johnston said. “I don’t think a tornado would knock it down. It’s pretty sturdy.”
The scoreboard in right field would also likely be moved in and the bullpens along each foul pole would need to be redesigned. The old fence also may not be reusable, and new paneling potentially would need to be purchased.
Norden said cost is one of the major reasons he’s in favor of leaving Cadwell the way it is.
“If they want to move the fence in, they should look at the cost and compare it to the cost of other improvements you could do at Cadwell,” he said. “Is it worth moving the fences in compared to what other things we could do with the money?”
‘Everyone is entitled to their own opinion’
Jones said if it were up to him, he’d like to keep Cadwell’s field the way it is.
During each summer since 2000, he’s been working on Cadwell Park and has never been a part of a major renovation to the field. Jones helped install the current restrooms, reconstructed the backstop and took part in other changes.
“When people come to the park, they’re in awe of the size,” Jones said. “Home runs are a part of baseball, but it’s not all of it.”
As director of the tournament, Johnston plans to closely monitor the amount of home runs hit this year at the state amateur tournament, where players will continue to use wood bats. He said he won’t have a personal opinion on the matter until mid-August after the conclusion of the tournament.
“If we don’t have many home runs, we might have to seriously consider doing that,” he said.
Hitting home runs doesn’t matter much to Johnson, who pitches frequently for the Raptors and also one of his team’s top hitters.
He believes keeping Cadwell the same is important.
“Everyone is entitled to their own opinion,” he said. “I don’t know anyone who would want to change Cadwell. To me, moving the fences in, you change the feel of the park.”