Softball has home-field advantage for wrong reasons

Caitlin Kelly photo: The Mercyhurst softball field is in urgent need of renovations.Caitlin Kelly photo: The Mercyhurst softball field is in urgent need of renovations.Softball players love the smell of fresh-cut grass and the sight of a freshly painted infield. At the start of a new season players take in the view from the clean dugout and look out at the recently dragged dirt and bright yellow fence surrounding the field.

The bad news is that if players are enjoying these simple pleasures, they are not playing at the Mercyhurst University softball field.

The field the Mercyhurst softball team calls home has paint falling from its dugout, bleachers warped from seeing too many games and uneven grass where patches were attempted but didn’t take right. There are even two different style benches in the dugout.

After four years of waiting, changes are on the way.

“We have been told for four years that the school was going to make changes,” senior Emily Redig said. “It’s nice that they are finally happening.”

As part of a five-year renewal of the lease with the City of Erie, Mercyhurst plans to spend $200,000 on the field. The project includes redressing the infield, planting grass in the outfield, upgrading the dugouts and bleachers and installing a scoreboard and flagpole.

The sad news is that when the softball team first took the field this year, the field was better than normal.
Caitlin Kelly photo: With graffiti in the dugout and a rock-filled infield, the team will welcome the changes with open arms.Caitlin Kelly photo: With graffiti in the dugout and a rock-filled infield, the team will welcome the changes with open arms.
“It was actually better this season then in past years,” said senior Sydney Cuscino. “There were less rocks, and they tried to patch the outfield.”

Cuscino has had to play 35 games on the field in her four years, and as an outfielder she deals with the worst parts of the field.

“The outfield goes up and down in stretches,” said Cuscino. “You can’t go all out, but if the ball happens to take a bad hop we are used to it.”

Home field advantage has a different meaning at Mercyhurst. The team has a record of 22-13 at home over the last four seasons.

“We play cautious on it,” Redig said.

Redig, an infielder, admits her job is a little easier than what Cuscino and the outfielders deal with.

“As an infielder its not ideal conditions, but it’s definitely better than the outfield,” Redig said.

Visiting teams accustomed to playing on turf or well-kept fields are in for a surprise.

Before practices the team takes time to pick up rocks around the infield. This is a chore that should not have to be done that frequently. The team also picks up trash around the field.

A number of these issues are because the field is open to the public.

“Part of it is just damage from being a city field,” said Cuscino. “After people play on it they don’t do the necessary clean-up.”

To make matters worse, there isn’t a scoreboard to follow during games or even electricity. The team couldn’t host a tournament because the field isn’t up to the necessary standards.

“It’s unfortunate to have to play collegiate softball on this field,” Redig said. “We have to play on it, but it makes the school look bad.”

The changes came at a poor time for Cuscino and Redig as they will never get to play on the new field, but they are still pleased for the change.

“I’m happy the underclassmen will finally have the field they should,” Redig said.

“I think it will help build the program and really adds to what we have been doing the last few years,” Cuscino said.

Despite the poor conditions, the team has been on the rise over the last four years. It had a .500 record two years ago and improved to 24-20 last year for its first winning season since 1991.