Fields are anything but green at the start of the high school softball and baseball seasons. Brown, soggy playing surfaces emerge from a six-month blanket of snow for season-opening games in late April.
Teams will have some reprieve from puddle-strewn fields this season thanks to a new turf field at Bartlett, and plenty of new faces will enjoy the turf as seven of the eight Cook Inlet Conference baseball teams have new head coaches.
The ball field and adjacent football field at Bartlett are both FieldTurf surfaces. The fields, which will be used for football, soccer, softball and baseball, cost $4.3 million.
The Alliance in Support of American Legion Baseball in Alaska acquired the funding from the state legislature, said Alliance president Steve Nerland. The complex isn’t finished — Nerland said there’s plans to add lights, grandstands and the dugouts need roofs — but the fields are playable.
All Anchorage teams will share the new field, Nerland said, it’s not just for the Golden Bears. Both the baseball mound and six-foot-high softball fence are removable, Nerland said, making the field ideal for both sports.
Bartlett’s softball team christened the field with a 14-6 win over Eagle River on Thursday. It was the first time the Golden Bears had a chance to play on the FieldTurf.
“The girls just love it,” head coach Cameron Van Ryn said. Bartlett was all smiles the entire game, he said.
“They were stoked,” Van Ryn said. “They were cheering the whole time.”
Nerland estimated the new field will host between 120 and 150 games this season.
“We’re gonna play a lot of baseball games and a lot of softball games at Bartlett this year,” he said.
That should help ease the burden at Mulcahy Stadium, which Nerland said hosted 200 games last year between the high school, American Legion and Alaska Baseball League seasons. The complex is also available for the public to rent, Nerland said.
“These are high school fields but they are also open to the community,” he said.
Another artificial field is a boon to the baseball/softball community, Nerland said, especially given the weather in Alaska.
“You can play in any kind of weather,” he said.
Playing on a consistent surface is another benefit, Nerland said.
“There’s no bad hops,” he said.
Bartlett’s turf isn’t the only addition this season. Along with a new field, seven of the eight CIC teams have new head coaches — Eagle River’s Gregg Frost is the lone returning manager.
Among the departing coaches is Chugiak’s Bill Lierman, who’s just three wins shy of becoming the first CIC coach to 100 wins in the high school season. Lierman guided the Mustangs to a 97-62 record through 14 seasons, the most among any coach.
Lierman, who was informed of his record last season, said he expected a lot of his players and in turn provided the same effort as a coach, which took a lot of time and energy. Lierman said he’s looking forward to spending time with his family, which includes helping coach his 4 and 7-year-old children in hockey and little league.
“It was time to go,” he said. “It was a good run.”
Lierman didn’t rule out returning to high school baseball in the future.
“I didn’t retire per se,” he said.
Nerland, who coached Service for 12 seasons, is the closest to Lierman with 84 wins, and Tony Wylie is third with 75. During his eight seasons with East from 1999 to 2006, Wylie went 75-20. His .789 winning percentage is the best among CIC high school managers who coached at least two seasons.
Reach Mike Nesper at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.