Michigan baseball coach Erik Bakich was happy to be playing at home a couple of weeks ago at the Wilpon Sports Complex instead of driving to Adrian College. Adrian is where the Wolverines had their "home" opener a year ago because the natural grass field at Ray Fisher Stadium was unplayable.
Michigan baseball now on synthetic turf
Michigan baseball coach Erik Bakich was happy to be playing at home a couple of weeks ago at the Wilpon Sports Complex instead of driving to Adrian College. Adrian College is where the Wolverines had their “home” opener a year ago because the natural grass field at Ray Fisher Stadium was unplayable.
It wasn’t great weather for this year’s March 26 opener against Western Michigan. But because Michigan installed a $2.5 million artificial turf field in the offseason, the game went on as scheduled.
The WMU game was followed by back-to-back Big Ten series against Iowa and Minnesota at the Wilpon Complex the last two weekends.
“There’s no way we would have been able to play against Western Michigan, and we most likely would have had to play our series against Iowa on a turf field like Adrian College, like we did last year,” said Bakich, who is in his second year as Michigan head coach.
With the switch to an artificial field, Jackson Glines had a chance to remember his first Big Ten series at Ray Fisher Stadium, cracking a walk-off single with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to lift the Wolverines to a 6-5 win over Iowa.
Glines, a junior college transfer from California, is the team’s leading hitter (.316) and run producer (20 RBI). Sophomore shortstop Travis Maezes is hitting .298 with 12-of-16 stolen bases and junior Kyle Jusick is hitting .302 with 17 RBI.
The Wolverines’ next home game is Wednesday night at 7 p.m. against Notre Dame.
“I think synthetic turf is an absolute necessity in the Midwest,” Bakich said. “I think if you’re re-doing a playing surface, the way our climate is, it allows you to get your games in, but most importantly not miss practice and be able to maximize your ability to develop your team and players.”
Bakich doesn’t mind the increased speed with which the game is played on synthetic fields.
“If you hit a ball with enough energy and you really hit it hard like in some of those hard Florida fields where you have that short Bermuda grass, you can hit that chopper over the corner infielder’s head,” Bakich said. “You can do that here now — and we want it to play fast because we want to play fast and recruit the type of athletes that can play fast.”
Bakich said the Wolverines were able to use the field in February, but heavy snow still pushed then inside to Oosterbaan Fieldhouse from time to time.
“We cleared just the infield only so we’d be able to take balls in February,” Bakich said. “Then, we’d get so much accumulation that we just had to go in Oosterbaan. We had a team practice on the field the Thursday (March 20) before heading to Indiana, but there were still some areas with snow.”
The Wolverines (14-17-1, 4-5 Big Ten) are 12-9 since returning closer Jacob Cronenworth to the bullpen. They have wins against Kent State, a World Series team in 2012, and Big Ten champion Indiana during that span.
“We’re getting better and that’s what it’s all about,” said Bakich, who guided the Wolverines to 29 wins and a 14-10 Big Ten record last year, and their first conference tournament appearance since 2010. “Since we’ve kind of come off the road we feel we’re really trending upward.”
Bakich expected the pitching to be the team’s strength, and it is.
“Our pitching would be an area of strength because we returned every starting pitcher from last year,” Bakich said. “Ben Ballantine, a fifth-year senior, is our ace and Friday starter with sophomore Evan Hill going Saturday and Trent Szkutnik Sunday. James Bourque — his stuff is really good with a fastball reaching 94 and a really sharp breaking ball. We feel having him toward the end of a game can be an advantage for us.
“The biggest difference in the bullpen is getting Cronenworth back.”
Cronenworth, also one of the team’s top hitters, had labrum surgery last June, which forced him to miss the first three weeks of the season.
“We started our year 2-8-1 and a lot of those losses came late in games,” Bakich said.