Indoor, turf games give baseball, softball teams a leg up

Early into the spring season, McHenry softball coach John DiFrancesca knew it would be difficult to get in a game with snow still dusting the field amid frigid temperatures.

But when DiFrancesca received a call from Marengo coach Dwain Nance to see if he would be interested in moving up their scheduled game from later in the season to March 21 at the Dome at Rosemont, DiFrancesca jumped at the opportunity.

The game was one of two the Warriors have played at the Dome this season, and with Fox Valley Conference Valley Division play beginning this week, DiFrancesca said playing indoors gave his team important experience.

“You can’t simulate a real game in a gym, so it gives you a great opportunity to get in the Dome and play and to see exactly what you have,” DiFrancesca said. “I think the other factor, too, is the whole level of competition. I think when you play solid teams, even if it’s early in the year, it just gives you a feel for what you have. … I love the fact we were able to get a couple games in.”

Marengo athletic director Chad Olson couldn’t recall the exact amount the school paid for each of the Indians' two games at the Dome at Rosemont this year but said it cost $200 to $300 a game, which was then split between the two teams. Renting a turf field and paying for the umpires goes into the cost for Marengo and other teams that played at Rosemont.

“I think it’s important when there’s an opportunity to play ball and a chance to get some in,” Olson said. “I’m very fortunate that Dwain has the kind of resources he’s had in place with those facilities and teams in his years and longevity of being a head coach.”

Olson and Marengo tried to find somewhere for the baseball team to play, but there was not an opportunity. Olson explained they looked into finding turf fields for the Indians’ baseball team given the weather situation and condition of their home field, however, they filled up quickly.

At Marengo, the money to pay for games on turf fields sometimes comes from District 154 or it will be paid for by the program’s funds. Olson said it hasn’t been difficult to add games at the Dome for the softball team because of the good communication involving himself, Marengo’s principal Angela Fink and superintendent Dan Bertrand, as well as past experience of setting up those type of games.

“The district is usually willing to support, and we’re very fortunate for that,” Olson said. “Other times, if there’s things the softball program wants to do that we don’t normally do and things like that, then we’ll talk about taking it from program funds.”

The Dome at Rosemont isn't the only option for area teams to get in games. Lippold Park in Crystal Lake features turf fields for baseball and softball. Crystal Lake Central, Crystal Lake South and Prairie Ridge's baseball teams eached have played games at Lippold Park because of unplayable home field conditions. Jack Sebesta, Superintendent of Facility Services for the Crystal Lake Park District, said it costs $25 to use a field at Lippold. It costs an additional $50 an hour with the lights on, although none of the games used the lights.

Central AD Jeff Aldridge said setting up games at Lippold is all about getting kids a chance to play. As for the Tigers' softball team getting games in at the Dome, Aldridge said he discussed the option with coach Brian Strombom.

However, because the games would have been played over spring break, Central wouldn't have had many players for the games. Aldridge added that they had lined up softball games last week at Lippold but didn't need to play them there because Central's softball field was playable.

"A lot of times, the first time you're outside is the first time you play a game," Tigers baseball coach Dan Badgley said. "We actually practiced once or twice (at Lippold) as well as playing on it, so it's a big advantage for us doing that."

Plunkett Park in Elmhurst proved to be a great option for the Huntley baseball team. Huntley coach Andy Jakubowski said he didn’t realize Plunkett Park had a turf field, which is the first year the ball field has had it. Huntley happily accepted Brother Rice’s offer, and the two schools split the cost. Huntley covered the cost of the umpires while Brother Rice paid the cost of the field.

With the great setup because the Red Raiders’ field was unplayable, Huntley AD Michelle Jakubowski called Brother Rice’s AD to see if there were any more open slots to play at Plunkett Park. The Red Raiders’ softball team also played on turf this season, playing three games at the Dome in Rosemont.

Huntley managed to secure another game on the Plunkett Park’s turf field earlier this season, and Andy Jakubowski said he plans to look into playing at Plunkett Park again next year just in case there are weather or field problems. Just like this year, Jakubowski won’t be alone in trying to schedule indoor games, which offer a great alternative with the unpredictable Midwest weather.

“It was very important, at least to get a few games in over spring break,” Andy Jakubowski said. “We’re still trying to figure out what our everyday lineup is going to be, and getting a couple of game in against good competition was only going to make us better going into conference play.”

- Joe Stevenson contributed to this report

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