The temperature was 68 on Tuesday afternoon. And it felt warmer in the sun, standing on the artificial turf at new Siebert Field.
Longtime Gophers baseball coach John Anderson was there, surrounded by TV cameras and voice recorders, talking a little baseball and a lot about the progress being made on his team's new ballpark.
Everywhere one looked there was something to see. The artificial grass looked pretty, whatever color it was. It was mostly green, except in the basepaths and down the lines. There it was reddish brown, imitating the color of a normal diamond. The only real dirt visible at the new Siebert was on the mound and in the batter's box.
The cement foundation of the stands behind home plate were in, but not chairback seats. The framing of the press box was in. The chain link outfield fence was in. But there was no batter's eye in center yet nor a scoreboard in right field.
Ballplayers were trickling to the field for another practice. Their first practice at the new Siebert was held Saturday. Anderson hopes to have about 18 to 20 more practices this month. Weather-permitting in October. Tuesday was ideal, of course.
Anderson said, according to the construction timeline, all the work is scheduled to be completed by Dec. 31.
When the ballpark officially opens next April, it will fulfill a dream Anderson has had had for years. "It's like a new pair of shoes," Anderson said. "It takes a while to break it in. It has to settle some here. But I couldn't be happier from what I have seen of the playing surface so far.
"Next spring it is going to play a little quicker. And that's what we want. But I am really, really impressed with the work that has been done here. ... We have a team of people here that have taken a level of pride that we feel like we have invested in this program the last 125 years. And they have given us, what I think, is a great playing surface here and the looks of a ballpark here that is going to be exciting for anybody associated with the Golden Gophers baseball program."
The new field is already helping with recruiting. Anderson has five commitments for 2014. "That's the earliest we have had five commitments," he said, "so I have to believe [this ballpark] has had some impact. I have said that all along over the last 20 years we have tried to put this together, that you facilities state a commitment to your program. And obviously with the Metrodome and a chance to play there in February and March and then transition out here to Siebert Field and back to campus, I think the students are going to enjoy coming out to [this] ballpark.
"We built a berm out there in left field that is going to be a free area, a place they can sit in the sun and watch the game. So we think we have added some parts to this facility that we think is going to make it user friendly and fun to come to the ballpark and watch the ballgame."
Anderson said he feels kind of weird coming out to his new field. "It has been a long time coming," he said. "There are days I walk out here I keep thinking something is going to happen to sidetrack it or push it backwards. It surely hasn't. We got a couple weeks behind on the front end because of the contaminated soil, but the weather has obviously helped us catch up a little bit. We are making progress."
The Gophers will open the new ballpark on April 5 against Ohio State.
"It will be an exciting time, a new era in Gophers baseball," Anderson said. "The Chief, [the late coach] Dick Siebert is up there and I think he would be smiling down on us, no question about it. He would be happy with what we have been able to bring from the old to the new here."
The old Siebert Field opened in 1971, when it was called Bierman Field at first.
Anderson said Siebert was a baseball traditionalist, but even he would have probably supported the artificial turf over grass today because it will permit the Gophers to avoid some rainouts. And he said the state-of-the-art turf from Mondo will "play like grass."
In batting practice, it is also like the old Siebert. "When the wind blows out we get some carry here," Anderson said. "And that is what we were hopeful for. It plays like the old Field."
Among other features Anderson likes:
* A sunken field. 'We have been able to bring the seats down to field level."
* Big dugouts. "When you get 40 people in there at home, there is a lot of people and equipment."
* Small area of foul territory. The backstop and dugouts are close to home plate. "Dick Siebert built the old ballpark. Didn't like a lot of foul territory. Didn't want the game to be decided in foul territory."
* Grass berms on both sides of visitors' dugouts until seating finished.
* Wide concourses, 17 feet wide.
* A food and drink railing in front of the concession stands where fans can watch the game.
* A big plaza entry area.
* A parking lot for tail-gating.
* The underground drainage system. "It will handle a flood, if it needs to."
* A well-designed bullpen area by the first-base line.
* A $500,000 video scoreboard in right field.
"It has got a lot of features," Anderson said. "It has come together better than I envisioned it when we put it all on paper. ... We are going to try to make game day a lot of fun for people to come out and give them some options and choices to enjoy the whole day out here, not just the ballgame."
June 11: Ground-breaking ceremonies
June 18: Start of construction
End of July: Demolition of old Siebert Field finished
September: new synthetic turf put in
December: First phase of project, costing $7.5 million, essentially done
New ballpark will seat 1,400 in Phase 1, and later expand to 2,000 ... footings for lights will be put in, but $400,000 still has to be raised to have lights for night games. ... Altogether, Phase 2 construction will cost about $6-7 million.
A LONG WAIT
First baseman Dan Olinger, a redshirt junior, can't wait to play at the new Siebert next spring.
"Even the guys before me here, they were promised a new field when they came," he said. "I am one of the lucky few to realize that dream.
"The construction guys have done such an unbelievable job with the field. Getting it up so quick. We are playing here this fall. I am exciting to see it completed."
As for the switch from real grass to artificial turf, Olinger said that he and his teammates are used to playing on it because the Gophers have played so many games in the Metrodome.
"People coming in, it is going to be a little different for them," he said. "And that, I guess, is our home-field advantage."
Olinger is eager for that first series: "Oh man, Ohio State. I can't wait. It is going to be a blast. You couldn't ask for a better opponent. for the first game. Ohio State has been a longtime rival of the Gophers" in baseball.