No Dirt, No Problem: Tigers Try Softball on Turf
It was a fair question, just one that isn’t heard too often when coaches and umpires go over the ground rules at home plate before a softball game.
What if the ball hits the goal post?
Saturday morning, it was one of the questions posed and quickly answered as the softball teams from Princeton and Hartford met for a doubleheader that was as makeshift as makeshift could be.
Anyone who has been in this part of the country at any time since about December knows why Saturday's doubleheader was a solution if games were to be played anywhere much closer than Florida. There’s been a lot of snow this winter, most of it still hanging around in piles in parking lots, roadsides, front lawns and any other nature-occupied spot. Yesterday, snow and the bits of ground-up black rubber that got stuck when plowing it off the turf had a front-row seat to watch this experiment in action.
In less than 24 hours, a corner of Finney-Campbell Field, an expanse of FieldTurf big enough to fit two football fields, went from being a practice site primarily for Princeton’s football and lacrosse teams to hosting an NCAA Division I for-real doubleheader.
Princeton and Hartford were due to play this past weekend at the University of Maryland, but field conditions nixed that. For a short time, a city park in Salem, Va., looked like an option to host these two and a few other teams, but that fell through for the same reason. So, Finney-Campbell it was. Members of the Princeton grounds crew painted an outfield line, batter's boxes and a pitching circle. A corner of the men’s lacrosse box served as the location of home plate, plus the first and third base lines. Soccer corner flags stood in for foul poles, marking where the foul lines met each end of the outfield line.
That’s outfield line, not fence, by the way, which created some interesting ground rules. The line was painted a little further than the fence stands at the Class of 1895 Field, Princeton softball’s usual home, 215 feet down the lines and a few feet further straightaway. If a ball touched on the outfield side of that line and rolled on through, it was a ground-rule double. If it hit beyond that line on the fly, home run.
And speaking of ground rules, hitting the football goal post was a dead ball. It came into play since the back of the end zone served as the “out of bounds” marker, meaning a foul ball couldn’t be pursued past that line.
That wasn’t the end of the improvisation. Double-sided tape helped keep the bases anchored to the field, and it did a fine job, too. A pitching rubber on an AstroTurf pitching lane was in the circle. A few sets of metal bleachers were rolled out, and a few dozen spectators filled them. Three rolling screens came together for the backstop. One of them tipped over a few times – backward, fortunately – but a couple bags on one of the wheels solved that problem.
ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, it was not, but it didn’t need to be. Princeton and Hartford had started their seasons just the weekend before. The Tigers battled mostly against teams that haven’t had to deal with the brutal winter and who started their seasons a few weeks earlier too. Princeton will head to California next weekend for 13 games over nine days against six teams from California and Arizona, and not the snowy parts of those states, either. A little live action before taking on that task was a big help.
The Tigers’ opponent was certainly game. Hartford took a 4-0 lead in the first game before Princeton came back and tied it with four runs in the fourth, and Finney-Campbell got even more softball than anticipated when it was tied 5-5 after seven. Princeton split the doubleheader with a 4-1 win in the second game, with all four runs coming when freshman Marissa Reynolds hit the first home run in the history of Princeton’s temporary softball home, putting it on the far side of that outfield line.
Almost five hours after it began, and not much longer since the idea came to be, Finney-Campbell’s run as Princeton’s softball home came to an end, at least for now. Until all that snow melts and the terra firma becomes a little more firm-a, we’ll know the patch of land that was simple green grass until about four years ago can help out in a pinch. Two winter-weary teams looking for a game on a pleasant-enough Saturday afternoon seemed to like it just fine.