The move to Kapco Park in Mequon has to be one of the easiest decisions the WIAA has ever made, at least as it relates to postseason tournament staging.
The new facility, open on the grounds of Concordia University Wisconsin, was announced as the new venue for the summer baseball state tournament, taking the role previously held by Bukolt Park in Stevens Point.
Only 56 schools sponsor summer baseball in 2012, and the vast majority are in the greater Milwaukee area (including Greenfield, Whitnall, West Allis Hale and West Allis Central), so it made sense to move to a venue closer to home. Having one that also happens to be a state-of-the-art experience makes the move that much more obvious.
The tourney will host only four teams (previously eight) at state this year, with a schedule compressed into one day, July 20. This isn't going to be a multiday team bonding experience. Blink and you'll miss it.
The Lakeshore Chinooks, a new installment in the Northwoods League for amateur baseball players, currently call the new venue home. I checked them out June 20 to see the new summer baseball state venue for myself.
1. Turf takeover. There is an immense benefit to using an artificial field turf surface, one that pervades all the new sports surfaces at the Mequon campus. Rain showers have frequently wreaked havoc on the state summer tourney, with only one field at its disposal and a tight window to get all the games completed. With fewer games, the threat of rain interference has already been lessened, and the surface means games can be played almost immediately after the showers slow down.
What I didn't realize was that the turf was not replacing only the grass, but also the dirt. The pitcher's mound is still a traditional dirt surface, but the infield and warning track are covered in the same field turf, just colored differently. Sliding into second resembles a slide on a wet tarp or Slip and Slide.
There's nothing wrong with it, but teams with zero experience playing on a turf field when they arrive at state will be in for a rude awakening. High flies that fall to the earth are going to bound into the air, and sharp grounders through the infield are going to skip like stones on water. On the bright side, the bounces are more predictable than they might be against the rocks, rock-hard dirt and multitiered surfaces of traditional ballparks. But this will be a very different baseball experience.
2. Windy city. The beautiful Mequon campus is within walking distance of a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan. As you might expect, that means gusts of wind. In the game I attended, the wind was blowing straight out to center field (I saw a grand slam that left the park by plenty), and more than one popup required a few stumbling steps backward shortly before the catch was made. It's another element that could make the play itself an adventure.
The center-field fence comes to a point in center at 404 feet, which will still require some muscle to clear, but if the wind is blowing in the same direction as it was that night, the fence is easily reachable. Then again, if the wind is blowing in, even clearing the 317-foot or 319-foot markers down the lines will be a reach.
3. Obviously, it's awesome. It shouldn't come as a surprise that this stadium is really cool. Instead of bleachers behind home plate, there is individual seating, with some additional bleachers and standing room areas down the lines. A video board provides an occasional live feed as part of the exceptional scoreboard. A brick facade behind the ample foul territory behind home plate and between the dugouts calls to mind Wrigley Field (about the only thing that looks the least bit retro). Those who remember the Stevens Point experience will be amped to move on from the antiquated bathroom facilities and tight surroundings.
4. It's a hot one. One area where Bukolt Park was better, however, is its use of shade. Kapco Park does have some shaded area behind the grandstand (near the main entrance/concession stand) and in the seats directly in front of the press box, but the landscaping doesn't offer much relief from the sun. Few ballparks really do, of course.
5. Run to the water. The traditional plunge into the Wisconsin River has become a staple of the summer baseball experience, and if I had to guess, I would say the winning team will try to carry on that tradition, running into Lake Michigan via a nearby tiny beach area. But it won't be as simple as running to the dock and jumping in, as was the case in Stevens Point. The lake is several hundred yards from the outfield fence of the park, and it will require a delicate descent down the bluff. Players and parents with camera equipment might find this visit to the water a tad more adventurous.
See video from Kapco Field and its surroundings at the Preps Alcove onLivingLakeCountry.com. Read sports director JR Radcliffe's Preps Alcove entries every week online and in the Sunday Living Lake Country.
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