Pullman Park's turf provides valuable option for local baseball teams
Dess Schnur must really like baseball.
The director of stadium operations at Pullman Park in Butler spends most of his time at the ballpark.
Forget lunch breaks. He's lucky if he gets to grab a handful of peanuts or Cracker Jacks.
“I do it all,” he said. “I drag the field, sell tickets, whatever we need done.”
Lately, Schnur has become amateur baseball's answer to a wedding planner. And everyone wants the same church and banquet hall.
He's been inundated with calls and emails from high school teams requesting field time at the venerable park, which has an artificial-turf infield, pitcher's mound and home-plate area.
The outfield is natural grass but drains effectively.
Pullman, which has a field many local coaches would most like to clone — the “Field of Dreams,” as it's called on the park's website — is rolling out the carpet for outside teams.
Late-spring snow blanketed local fields just two days after WPIAL baseball and softball season opened, wiping out games for days to come. Desperation set in for some teams that were tired of indoor practices and tentative about stepping on their muddy fields.
Pullman became Plan B, although everyone seemed to have the same idea.
“I will put in about 60 hours in a week,” Schnur said. “We (had) 14 games scheduled to be played here this weekend.”
Pullman usually hosts around a dozen games each month in the spring. It could have more than 40 this month and more than 100 through May.
Schnur estimates up to 250 will be played this year.
“My head has been spinning,” he said. “We do the early contracts and follow-ups, too.”
Pullman, which opened in 1935, underwent major renovations from 2008-10.
Pullman is the home field for three high school baseball teams: Knoch, Karns City and Moniteau. Butler plays select home games there as well.
Gannon and Robert Morris are among several college teams that play there, and Pullman also is home to the Butler Blue Sox of the Prospect League, a summer wooden bat league for college players.
But the quaint, major league-sized park has become the temporary home for high school teams. The Deer Lakes baseball and softball teams have played at Pullman.
“It's a beautiful park,” Deer Lakes baseball coach Jon Pedrosky said. “I played there in high school when I went to Plum. I am old school and like the dirt bases, but it's amazing what they've done there.
“When nasty weather comes in like this, it's nice to know there's a place we can play. This is the worst spring (weather) I have seen since I've been coaching.”
Other area fields with turf playing surfaces include those at Fox Chapel and Woodland Hills high schools, Seton Hill University and Consol Energy Park in Washington, the home of the Washington Wild Things and site of the WPIAL baseball championships.
Schnur has been making changes to the schedule, with more teams calling.
“I've had to turn down five or six games because they wanted certain times,” Schnur said. “(Tuesday), I had four calls within five minutes. The first one called back to confirm, then three others called and wanted the same time and date.”
Fox Chapel hasn't been burdened by extra requests for field usage, although it did host some late-season baseball games that were nipping at the WPIAL regular-season deadline last year.
Getting early games in are important, Fox Chapel athletic director Mike O'Brien said, but there may be more important issues, too.
“Just because there are some fields with turf doesn't mean it's safe to play outside,” O'Brien said. “It's freezing out, and kids are using metal bats. There's a safety issue there, and some people neglect to remember that.”
Christine Blaine, director of marketing and communications for the Washington Wild Things, said there has been about a 50-percent increase in the number of requested games by outsiders, mostly college teams, at Consol.
“We've always had tons of amateur games,” Blaine said.
Night games, Schnur said, can cost up to $275. The cost to rent the field for games starts at around $160.
“We add $50 for lights,” Schnur said.
Use of the concession stand, scoreboard and announcer also come with an additional cost.
Schnur said high school teams can play a game at Pullman for the price it takes to buy infield mix for their dirt fields.
“And you're also talking about tarps, mowing the grass, lines and staff,” Schnur said. “It adds up.”
Schnur said, for softball purposes, the mound is lowered, a pitcher's circle put down and cones are lined up in the outfield to simulate a much-closer fence.
Some schools have discussed playing softball games on their turf football fields, although most don't have the space or amenities.
Plum had a softball scrimmage on its field a few years ago. But to have the field game-ready, a backstop and more space are must-haves.
“Our turf is not real wide,” Plum athletic director Bob Alpino said. “The biggest issue from what I remember is the bases needed to be secured for games. The track would be my safety concern, and a girl slipping on it with molded spikes.”
Other high school teams that have games scheduled at Pullman include Apollo-Ridge, Mt. Lebanon, Bethel Park, Pine-Richland, Valley and West Shamokin.
For the first time in the past five years, Pullman had to cancel games because of snow. But the thaw was quick, Schnur said, thanks to the technology of the turf.
“The synthetic turf is like a hand-warmer,” he said. “By 1:30 in the afternoon, with the 2 inches of rubber crumbs under the turf, it heats up and the snow melts off.”
Schnur said the grass outfield has stayed surprisingly playable.
“If you find a puddle, I want to see it,” he said.
The pitcher's mound switching to turf last May gave Pullman a true edge over other fields, Schnur said.
“There's no dirt now,” he said. “You can't mix dirt and synthetic. When we (added turf to the mound), we went to the next level.”
Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at email@example.com.