FARGO-It would take a long home run to reach it, but beyond what will be the left field fence at Ellig Sports Complex softball stadium is a small plot of corn, presumably for research purposes by North Dakota State. It's looking healthy at several feet high.
The crop would be more fitting if it was next to a baseball field, but softball is close enough. The program's "Field of Dreams" is becoming a reality, not something made up in a movie, and this fall the Bison players will be able to emerge so to speak from the corn.
The artificial FieldTurf began arriving Monday and Tuesday, ready to be installed on the already-flattened subbase of gravel and sand. When finished in about three weeks, it will represent yet another NDSU facility making the change from grass to turf.
The athletic department has already revealed plans for its $37 million indoor football facility, which would eliminate the two grass practice fields south of the Sanford Health Athletic Complex in favor of turf. The women's soccer program plays on turfed Dacotah Field.
About all that would remain would be the all-grass Newman Outdoor Field for the baseball program. The athletic department would like to turf that, too, but the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks of the American Association have priority.
Newman is a city-owned facility on NDSU property that is run and operated by the RedHawks. NDSU leases the stadium from the city.
"The RedHawks are the primary tenant and we're another tenant," said NDSU athletic director Matt Larsen.
A "management committee" consisting of RedHawks president and chief executive officer Brad Thom, RedHawks general manager Matt Rau, Fargo city administrator Bruce Grubb, Fargodome general manager Rob Sobolik, NDSU deputy director Todd Phelps and head Bison baseball coach Tod Brown have met to discuss possible upgrades. Grubb said an architect has been hired to put together a capital improvement plan but that's as far as things have gotten.
"Then we'll get together as a management team and figure out, how do we finance the improvements that are needed?" Grubb said.
The stadium, opened in 1996, is starting to show its age in the suite, press box and some seating areas, Phelps said. Drainage is also an issue. Thom questions the potential lifespan of the current underground sprinkler system, saying repairs are coming at a faster pace.
Thom would also like to see a secondary elevator, noting the hassle of getting people who need assistance out of the stadium in one game last year when the lone elevator broke down. The Fargo fire and police departments were called to help out.
"Newman is reaching a point where it will need capital improvements," Phelps said.
Whether that includes turf is another issue. Grubb said the architect "will touch on that."
"NDSU certainly would like turf and they have obvious reasons for it, " Grubb said. "They play early baseball."
The RedHawks, however, are not in favor of it.
"It's no issue as far as we're concerned," Thom said. "Baseball is meant to be played on natural grass. We love it and it's perfect for us. If they ever came up with a grass that is identical to real grass, then maybe we would look at it. We have 180,000 to 200,000 people that come through our doors and we want to make them happy, too."
Of the 12 American Association teams, three have artificial turf: the Wichita Wingnuts, Cleburne Railroaders and Texas AirHogs.
Phelps said the school understands why the RedHawks like the natural grass in the summer. But NDSU is also slated to take over ownership of the stadium per the lease agreement when it expires in 2089.
"We won't be around but when that does happen, we want it to still be a great facility," Phelps said.
Meanwhile, the Ellig Complex will easily be the leader in softball facilities in the Summit League. The drainage will be something else, with the field capable of handling 30 to 40 inches of rain per hour.
"Which is crazy," Phelps said. "But if it's pouring rain, within five minutes of it stopping, you can play."
The entire field including the outfield, pitchers mound and basepaths will be turfed. The outfield fence is being moved back anywhere from eight to 10 feet, with the left and right field foul lines at 200 feet and center field at 218 feet, with all of it having a padded finish. Phelps said Bison head coach Darren Mueller felt the old layout was too small.
"And he usually has good speed so he wanted to make it bigger," Phelps said.
The first phase, new chairback seating, press box and renovated dugouts, cost $800,000.
The turf and fencing phase will be $850,000.
"Everything has been on time, on schedule and on budget," Phelps said.
A third phase, an indoor hitting facility, is still in the preliminary stages. It would be located directly adjacent to the NDSU outdoor cages and bullpen to the north of the field.
"With all of their success, they'll finally have a ballpark worthy of everything," Phelps said. "What they've done is terrific. When the players come back (in August), it will be a whole different world for them."