SALEM - Baseball field maintenance is a little easier in Salem this year.
And despite the lesser workload, there's a chance the field will host more games than ever before. That's because the ballpark now features artificial turf on the pitching mound and home plate area, which was installed in late September.
Craig Cheeseman, a committee member with Salem Baseball and longtime coach, helped spearhead the project after coming up with the idea after discussing baseball artificial turf with Mount Marty College head coach Andy Bernatow. Both MMC and Augustana University feature fully turfed baseball infields.
"Maintenance on the field is all volunteer and it's a lot of work to keep up," Cheeseman said. "From a maintenance perspective, that's how I thought about it initially. There's a lot of games on it too. Starting next week we'll have about four games a week on it."
Cheeseman said baseball organizers fundraised $7,000 for the project and volunteers did all the prep work of removing the old clay.
"If turfed infield is good enough for Augustana and Mount Marty baseball, it's definitely good enough for us," said Cheeseman, who added the pitching mound and home plate don't have to be tarped when it rains.
Already this spring, Cheeseman cited two doubleheaders the McCook Central/Montrose high school team played that wouldn't have happened without the turf on the mound and at home plate. The turf is supposed to last around 20 years, Cheeseman said, with regular maintenance as needed.
"There's a significant warranty on it, but we'll have to replace the wear spots," said Cheeseman, adding maintenance occurs on those spots around every 70 to 100 games. "The batter's box where batters stand and the pitching mound where pitchers push off and land. We'll have to check spots every couple years and replace them. It's a pretty simple process."
Unlike the fields in Sioux Falls and Yankton, Salem's turf meshes with the grass infield, something Cheeseman said was always part of the plan. Cheeseman said he's heard plenty of questions about the process but added it's gone well so far.
"Time will tell as we play more on it," Cheeseman said. "We're sure liking it so far with the high school team. I've had other coaches ask about it. The traditionalists aren't going to like it. They want dirt and grass."
In 2015, Salem hosted the Class B state Legion baseball tournament and this year the town will host the 16-under Class B state teener tournament. Cheeseman said the changes should allow the field to host more state events in the future as well as other tournaments throughout the summer.