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OSIPOFF: Weather or not, Steel Yard ready for action

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correction

Marquette boys basketball player Braxton Miller was incorrectly identified as teammate Ryan Fazekas in a photo on the back cover of Wednesday’s Post-Tribune. A photo of
Fazekas appears on Page 37
of today’s Post-Tribune.

The Post-Tribune regrets the error.

Updated: April 28, 2014 10:44AM



Words of advice from Michele Pickering? Be careful not to lose a shoe.

When the RailCats head groundskeeper and other team personnel first took to the field at the Steel Yard to attempt to get it into playing condition after a brutal run of weather, they were standing in five inches of mud.

It was only at the beginning of this week that any tending could be done without sinking. And that was only after the use of three pallets of Turface, well more than the one — maybe one-and-a-half — usually necessary for the job.

For sure, it has been a challenge after a winter (Winter is over, right? According to the calendar, it’s officially spring, right?) that was Chicagoland’s third coldest and snowiest on record.

And as far as this spring? Pickering — in her third season as RailCats groundskeeper after two as an assistant, having held the head position with the Schaumburg Flyers for one season and having three seasons of major league experience with the Detroit Tigers — has her own assessment.

“This is by far the worst spring,” the Portage High graduate said. “The staff (including Pickering’s assistant, Noah Simmons, a student at Portage) has really stepped up. If it wasn’t for the entire staff, they wouldn’t be playing on Saturday.”

That would be Notre Dame against Wake Forest, after the Irish’s games scheduled for this past Saturday and Sunday against Virginia Tech were relocated because of the weather, to Grand Park in Westfield, north of Indianapolis.

Notre Dame will play an additional three-game series at the Steel Yard, from April 25 to 27 against Northeastern.

Coincidentally (or not), it has been the inclement weather that has delayed the installation of an artificial surface (FieldTurf) at Frank Eck Stadium, necessitating the Irish playing home games at nearby and surrounding venues, such as the Steel Yard.

When RailCats general manager Pete Laven arrived at the stadium on Tuesday morning, greeted by a fresh layer of snow blanketing the field, he had a simple reaction.

“It’s to the point where you just have to laugh a little bit,” Laven said. “You keep thinking that each storm’s going to be the last, and then it’s not. At the same time, you’re trying to get the field ready.”

Preparations toward that end began on March 1. With frost and rain and — yes — snow, Pickering and company have pulled tarp virtually every day since.

“That’s been a battle,” she said.

“It’s going to be soft for them on Saturday, but this is how we start our season every year. It’s a little rough around the edges, but we’ll be ready to go.”

All things considered, the grass has remained in relatively good shape. The mound and home plate area consist of a fair amount of clay, something of a slight reprieve. But the infield has required serious attention. It has to be dry. And level — no bad hops wanted.

“It’s basically opening up the dirt whenever we can, nail dragging the field,” Laven said. “You have to open up the dirt so it can dry.”

Said Pickering: “Not only do the people take a beating, but the equipment takes a beating too.”

Mother Nature could assist in expediting the process. Sun helps, obviously. Wind does, too. She hasn’t always been cooperative in that regard, though Wednesday — bright, with a breeze — was one of the better days of late.

“We’re almost there,” Laven said.

And probably not a moment too soon for Pickering, who was bracing to deal with rain on Thursday and ice on Friday.

“I keep telling myself, ‘Three more days, three more days,” she said on Wednesday night as she continued to work on the field. “Then I can take a break, and get some sleep.”

But probably not much.

From April 5 to 23, the RailCats are hosting their 12th annual High School Challenge, with 16 games involving 31 teams.

Weather permitting, of course.



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