Whitworth Dedicates Renovations To Merkel Field - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Whitworth Dedicates Renovations To Merkel Field

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The sun was shining bright on Saturday morning as Whitworth held a pregame ceremony to dedicate the new and improved Merkel Field.

The weather proceeded to take a turn for the worse as the Pirates played the first game of a doubleheader against Lewis & Clark on Saturday afternoon. But the mixture of hail and rain that fell from the sky was all too perfect on this day, as the game progressed without a hitch, those in the stands far more bothered by the inclement weather.

Of the improvements made to Merkel Field during offseason renovations was an entirely turf infield -- the only dirt is on the mound. Other changes include new dugouts and netting behind home plate.

The new field turf is key in a rainy climate, such as the Northwest, where traditional dirt infields constantly create unsafe conditions that lead to postponed and suspended games.

"In the northwest, obviously baseball, softball, all outdoor sports are dependent on the weather," athletic director Aaron Leetch said. "And for our baseball program to now have a facility that includes field turf, gives them the opportunity to not only play more, but to practice more.

"That's one of the key components. The game piece is huge, but the piece about being able to get outside earlier and be able to get on the turf and get outside and field a groundball and to see a ball in the air and to see live action is important."

The renovation to Merkel Field has been many years in the making. When President Beck Taylor and Leetch -- two of the main cogs in the drive to renovate -- came to the school in 2010 and 2011, respectively, talks of a facelift to the baseball facilities had already been ongoing. Whitworth's improbable run to the World Series last season, though, gave the necessary momentum to get the project off the ground.

Despite the obvious need for renovation, often times it is the success of a program that dictates when large projects get done because the visibility is greater with donors during fundraising. Once there was enough money raised, though, Taylor said it was an easy decision to make going forward with the renovation.

"When you're prioritizing the needs of our students and our student athletes, sometimes it's hard to pull the trigger on a big project like this," the Whitworth president said. "The fact of the matter is, this was an easy project to say yes to. We needed the renovations, the baseball program really represents the excellence of our athletic department and we had so many donors and supporters come to the table to help us do it. So it really was a fun and easy project to say yes to."

If anyone knows the difference the renovation has made, it's the players. Sophomore pitcher Carson Blumenthal admits the field was a "bit of an eyesore" and said there were logistical issues, such as a low net behind home plate allowing foul balls easily go out of the complex and down the hill behind the stands.

So the improvements of the new-look Merkel Field are not lost on the Pirates. In fact, they almost forget about their new digs.

"You come out here every day for practice and like every once in awhile I'll forget we have turf and I'll show up and I'll be like, 'Man, we have the nicest field in the conference,'" junior Tyler Pfeffer said.

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