Some things in sports never change — like the intense rivalry between Seaford and Indian River varsity baseball teams. But one thing has changed since the last time they played — a new Indian River ballpark.
Ground crews and coaches have worked tirelessly to prepare the field for its regular season opener today against cross-county rival Seaford. There are still a few rough patches, or “jetties” as senior shortstop Josh Dean likes to call them, but that is to be expected.
“We shouldn’t even be on this thing,” head coach Howard Smack said. “Seaford was two years away from playing on their field.”
In fact, Seaford had to readjust its fences to make room for throwing circles and a reasonable practice area.
“It took us two full years to get what we had,” said Seaford Athletic Director Vincent Morris. “Now we have a nice field. Sometimes you want it to be finished, but anything that looks that nice is worth the wait,” Morris concluded.
Maybe the park needed more time to settle or work out the kinks, but no one really wanted to wait. Their new park is a beautiful thing, and kind of like a first car, its users love it unconditionally.
The park is about 30 feet deeper; the alleys shoot about 365 feet and now have a playable 10-foot fence instead of a rickety, rusted hurdle of a fence at their old field.
Last year, homeruns at Indian River’s field were easy to come by. It wasn’t terribly uncommon to see a right-handed batter, such as Dean, power an opposite-field homerun into the grove of pine trees.
Dean led all shortstops in the conference with eight homeruns last year and, though he hit just as many homeruns away as he did at home, he said the new field will provide him with an opportunity to work on his game for college.
“Our new field is a lot of fun because it gives you a lot of room to run,” he said. “The colleges I’ve visited wanted me to work on my line drives more, and there’s plenty of room for doubles and triples.”
As the Indians’ new leadoff hitter, Dean wants to put the ball in play and let his legs do the heavy lifting.
Now they have more room to hit and more room to patrol defensively, which may be problematic for both teams because of the hard-driving wind that kicks up over the wide-open field. A grove of pine trees protected the old field from oppressive March winds, but no more.
“I don’t think we’ve practiced one day that there hasn’t been 15 to 20 mph winds blowing out to right (field),” Dean said.
“The wind is screwed on our field,” Abbott said. “It blows right across the field and it moves the ball. It might not affect a grounder, but it becomes more of a difference on a high pop or a line drive.”
Despite the wind, Abbott said that their new park will become more of a pitchers’ park because it will gives players more room to move. Smack said, “It will take some time to get used to playing in a bigger park.” But one thing is still the same: “It’s still 90 feet to first (base) and 90 feet to home (base).”
“All we have to do it put the bat on the ball — move the runners and play smart baseball,” Abbott said.