By Collin Brooks
Making the infield of TVA Credit Union Ballpark synthetic turf, a $250,000 project that is currently being done at the former Cardinal Park will make it easier for the facility to host other activities, Johnson City Cardinals General Manager Tyler Parsons told the News & Neighbor.
The project, which is set to be completed on Jan. 16, will help the facility become more than just a place to play ball and will help the second largest venue that can serve alcohol in the Tri-Cities — behind Bristol Motor Speedway — open its doors for more year-round events.
“It gives us the opportunity for more events and less chances to damage the field,” Parsons said. “Now there are a lot of things that we could do with quick turnarounds and we don’t have to worry about weather as much.”
The turf will only be in the infield with the only dirt being found on the pitcher’s mound. The outfield will remain natural grass, but Parsons said the organization will use this as a trial year and see if a turf outfield is also needed. Once the project is completed, Parsons said they will look at the different events that they might be able to host. He noted that the Thirsty Orange — a beer festival in the spring — may be a good fit.
The new turf — which will save about $15,000 per year on field maintenance costs — is part of a string of improvements since the Boyd Sports, LLC took over management duties for the team on a 10-year lease before the 2016 season.
The team added a viewing deck and beer garden to their field named “The Perch”, which was honored with a Best Ballpark Improvement in 2016 by Ballparkdigest.com. Other improvements included upgrades to the home clubhouse and getting the technology to allow people to use their credit cards inside of the stadium.
“Those have been great,” Parsons said, “and in the home clubhouse we will continue to make tweaks every year. And The Perch was a monumental improvement and it helped us not only get more people to the ballpark, but helped us reach a younger demographic.”
In 2016, the Cardinals set a new attendance record, topping a 1994 record of 48,038. It was also the third season that they were able to improve their attendance.
The Cardinals, 2016 Appy League Champs, aren’t quite done making improvements, their next project will be replacing the field lights, hopefully before the Cardinals season starts on June 22. Other projects may include another possible viewing area down the first base line and seating improvements in the stadium.
The Ballpark will now be one of about 10 Minor League stadiums that has turf and Parsons said all of the stadium’s tenants were happy with the decision.
“We thought there might be a little bit more of an education process in order to get them on board, but really from the conversations we had with St. Louis they were totally on board with it,” Parsons said. “There goal is to get as many games and practices in as they can with their farm team, so they understood that for us — a small level team that doesn’t have the resources of a full time grounds crew — that having this turf means they can practice whenever.”
Science Hill will be able to start practice once the field is done and will have plenty of time to get accustom to the turf before their pre-season opener against Unicoi County on Feb. 28.