Updated: March 21, 2014 at 5:31 pm
Sky Sox players will step onto a surface this year that will mimic that of Coors Field, right down to the four strains of grass and the clay and dirt mixture in the infield.
The new grass and dirt were part of a complete field overhaul, as crews cut 7-10 inches deep into the Security Service Field to replace the surface, subsurface and tune up the drainage system.
The timing of the project, which cost the organization more than $250,000, also allows the Sky Sox to provide a definitive answer to fans confused about a potential relocation.
"We still get questions from people as to whether or not we are moving downtown," Sky Sox general manager Tony Ensor said. "Obviously we are not moving downtown."
The speculation wasn't unfounded. The Sky Sox, at the city's request, issued a survey last year to gauge interest in building a downtown stadium to replace the facility near Barnes Road and Powers Boulevard. Ensor said he hasn't seen the results of the survey, but he heard enough via emails, phone calls and personal interactions to understand the community did not want a move.
"We were flattered when the city asked us to consider entertaining the idea of being a part of the proposal for downtown, the City for Champions, but our fans spoke loudly," Ensor said. "They really love their Sky Sox baseball where it is. They love the hometown feel that we have in this facility.
"The major concern for us was, 'What does the community think?' Our baseball community, our fans, told us they like us exactly where we are and they didn't want to see us change."
The field, however, needed a change. Torrential rains last year exposed drainage problems that resulted from 10 years of wear and team. Each year a baseball field will accumulate about a half-inch worth of organic matter from grass clippings and roots. Those five extra inches had created a spongy barrier to keep rainwater from leaving the field, leading to delays, cancellations and a soggy surface. Along the way, the slope of the field had grown pronounced enough that a runner rounding third would first be running downhill, then have to climb back uphill to get home.
That surface had also grown hazardous on the infield, where bad hops occurred numerous times a week.
"I think over the course of time it became pretty clear that the field needed to be looked at," said manager Glenallen Hill, who will return for his second season with the Sky Sox.
"It's one of those things where if you focus on the negative things then you always expect negatives, and that's not a good place to be," Hill added. "The players were well aware of it, but they were never aware to the point where it became an issue and they were distracted by it."
Ensor, himself a former groundskeeper, said longtime vice president of field operations Steve DeLeon and his crew are in constant contact with players and address issues with the field immediately as they arise, and that bumps and ridges will continue to emerge and be corrected.
Ensor stressed that the field renovation had little to do with bad hops or political timing, but is something minor league parks can expect to undertake every seven-to-10 years. Since it had been 10 years from the last renovation and after drainage problems arose last year with the rains, it was apparent it was time.
"It was based out of need," Ensor said. "The timing of it was just happenstance that it happened at the same time that the City for Champions was being discussed. It has no relation. But it is important that people know that over the past 10 years you're looking at close to $10 million that we've invested in this community and this facility.
"I think that shows the commitment that we have to this facility and this side of Colorado Springs."
The work began in October and is in the finishing stages. The Sky Sox open the home schedule April 11.
All the work was done by Colorado companies, several that were also recently contracted for similar work at Coors Field. C&C Sand and Stone Co., a Colorado Springs business, provided all of the sand.
The turf that was removed from the Sky Sox infield was donated to several area fields.
With talk of a downtown move put to rest, Ensor said the Sky Sox are starting to create a master plan for future renovations, though he did not offer any specifics. While he would categorize this particular project more as maintenance than renovation, he does believe it shows the team is entrenched at its location.
"It has been our home for the past 26 years," he said, "now we're going to start looking at the next 25 years."