Nothing says summertime in America like the crack of the bat. But as long as Mother Nature spites the Michigan baseball team with snow and cold, it will continue to practice in the friendly confines of Oosterbaan Fieldhouse.
“We”d like to say that this would be our last week,” assistant coach Chris Harrison said. “But hopefully after the Kansas weekend (Mar. 16-18) we won”t come back here again.”
Spending six days a week working under the watchful eye of the florescent lights has left many players anxious to play outside.
“It”s boring,” junior pitcher and first-baseman Jeff Trzos said. “Looking up and seeing the same thing everyday stretching you”d rather watch some clouds.”
While their surroundings remain constant, Coach Geoff Zahn”s club must work its schedule around the football team”s spring practices.
Baseball alternates with softball, practicing either before or after Lloyd Carr”s clan. On any given day the players could be working as early as 2 p.m. or as late as 9 p.m. at night.
No matter what time it is, though, the team must adjust to its less-than-friendly environment.
“We do as much as we can to make it as real as we can, knowing that there are limits on what we can do,” Harrison said.
While Oosterbaan is large enough to accommodate full-scale infield practice, other things like taking fly balls or playing intrasquad games are simply impossible.
“Working in here forces you to work on individual fundamentals,” Harrison said.
After spending a week in Florida without a homerun, Michigan will be putting extra emphasis on the fundamentals of driving the inside pitch.
“If there was one thing that showed up last week, it was we didn”t drive that pitch well. And that is something we need to do,” Harrison said.
Conversely, the Wolverines” pitchers put more emphasis on conditioning when they are indoors.
“A lot of it has been agility work,” pitching coach Steve Foster said. “And we”re building the power muscles below the pectorals and above the knees.”
He says the only fundamentals pitchers have to deal with are “throwing strikes and not getting hit.”
Despite the unanimous preference for practices under the sun, one feature of the facility received rave reviews from players and coaches alike the new playing surface.
The current material, called FieldTurf, was installed in January. This is the third surface since the building”s construction in 1970, with the first two being the more traditional AstroTurf. Unlike AstroTurf, which is a tightly-tufted carpet installed upon a six inch foam cushion, FieldTurf is designed to better replicate natural grass.
“The blades of FieldTurf are two-and-a-half inch long poly, with a two inch deep mixture of crushed rubber and sand filled between the blades,” explained Robb Dunn, who oversees the building for the Athletic Department. “This filling acts as both a stabilizer and cushion for the turf, eliminating the need for the foam cushion beneath the surface.”
“It”s much more like grass,” Harrison added. “It”s fast. But when you go down south, you play on fast fields. They”re dry, baked and usually cut low.”
Michigan will get another look at those fields when it travels to Louisiana this weekend to play a three-game set against the Cowboys of McNeese State.