By Rick Malwitz
RED BANK – Red Bank Catholic High School Athletic Director Joe Montano will likely spend less time next spring peering out his windows, wondering whether to postpone a baseball or softball game due to rain.
The grass and dirt – and often in the spring, the mud – playing fields at Count Basie Park are being replaced by artificial turf.
“It will make my job a lot easier,” said Montano, whose job includes helping judge whether a field is ready for play.
RBC head baseball coach Buddy Hausmann is also looking forward to the change. “I’ll be in bed and at midnight I’ll hear rain on the roof, and the rest of my night is shot,” he said. “What’s the field like? Can we play?”
Based on the history of the performance of FieldTurf – the maker of the artificial turf to be installed here – such questions should not be a problem, said Borough Administrator Stanley Sickles. “You can have a downpour and 15 minutes later the field is ready to play,” he said.
During the Borough Council meeting on Aug. 8, the governing body entered into an agreement with Tarkett Sports, manufacturer of FieldTurf. The council also amended a longstanding agreement with Red Bank Catholic High School, a primary user of the playing fields.
The football field at Count Basie Park, also used by RBC, already has a FieldTurf surface. By next spring the artificial turf will be added to fields used for Little League baseball, high school baseball and softball, lacrosse, field hockey, and soccer.
Five years ago a FieldTurf surface was installed at the baseball field at Rutgers. “It has performed above our expectations from the very beginning,” said Rutgers coach Fred Hill. “Our players really like it. We get a lot of consistent play from the surface. It is especially beneficial where the weather has many changes,” Hill added.
The football field at Rutgers Stadium also has a FieldTurf surface that in 2004 replaced a grass playing field that was often difficult to maintain due to its proximity to the Raritan River.
Seton Hall University and Kean University have baseball fields with artificial turf. East Brunswick High School is the lone school in Central New Jersey with an artificial turf field for baseball.
Hausmann said some of his players have played on one of five artificial turf fields at Diamond Nation, a private facility in Flemington that hosts scores of games and tournaments.
The only downside, said Hausmann, is the heat of the surface. “Last week we had a soccer camp (at the football fields) and kids were complaining their feet were on fire,” he said.
Rain is not the only problem with natural grass fields, according to Hausmann. “In the beginning of the season the grass does not grow and the field can be rock hard. By the end of the season it has to be cut maybe twice a week.’’
The new artificial turf is part of a plan to renovate Count Basie Park in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Renovations will include new walking paths, a concession stand, and restrooms. The estimated cost is between $1.8 million and $2.0 million.
Funding will come from Monmouth County and state grants, a $500,000 contribution from Red Bank Catholic High School, and between $500,000 and $750,000 the borough will raise with a bond, according to Sickles.
One grant of $60,000 is from Major League Baseball through its Baseball Tomorrow Fund. That grant will help fund the new playing field at the field currently used by Little League baseball and high school softball.
The adjacent field will be a baseball field with Major League dimensions.
Red Bank Catholic High School, according to Sickles, has been a “wonderful partner” in the maintenance of Count Basie Park.
The school’s $500,000 contribution, which will be spread over 10 years, “was one of the things that made this possible,” Sickles said.
The high school paid for the last renovation of the grass baseball field and other improvements, including the football scoreboard.
“It is a great partnership,’’ Montano said.