National honor big deal for HS field

According to a report by Obrey Brown for the The Redlands (CA) Community News, it wasn’t too long after discovering his home field won a significant award that Redlands High baseball coach Estevan Valencia was spreading the word.

“We won the Region 8 field of the year for the National High School Baseball Coaches Association,” he said back on July 13.

It’s the same honor for which Redlands won in 2013. Region 8 is California, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii.

According to the Baseball Coaches Association, which dispenses the awards, the Terriers’ field is now up for national honors.

Association members each have options to nominate their field. Valencia submitted RHS’ nomination before the school year concluded.

It doesn’t take much effort to size up that Redlands’ varsity field may be the jewel of the school district. The Yard at the University of Redlands is, perhaps, the community’s top baseball complex, but there’s a difference in caretakers.

High school coaches are solely responsible for their field care. There is no assistance from the school district on mowing, a fact Valencia discovered right away during the interview process.

“Coaches,” he was told, “would have to do the field maintenance.”

They were provided with equipment, including special mowers. Valencia, his assistant coaches plus players, make it work — the same as most high school programs.

“Makes it that more special for us,” said Valencia.

Until 11 years ago, said Valencia, “the district (maintenance department) mowed the outfield grass once a week.”

Valencia halted that process when they mowed a wet or muddy field, thus injuring the turf.

Not even the prospect of playing on an award-winning field had likely lured players to the Terriers. “I wish so,” said Valencia, “but no.”

The history of Redlands’ field took a curious twist in 1990 upon the retirement of Don Dewees, the Terriers’ coach since the 1970s.

The field was considered vastly inferior for high school standards. There were no dugouts, nor a suitable backstop, among other perceived shortcomings.

When Gladstone coach Rich Remkus, the candidate who would replace Dewees, turned down the Terrier job, he did so due to the inferior field conditions.

A committee of Redlands baseball supporters immediately started a campaign to raise enough funds for a complete field makeover.

Raising enough cash, including a reported $50,000 from the local schools, the committee brought in Riverside-based field builder Chris Krug of Athletic Turf to construct the new facility.

Krug, who constructed the ‘Field of Dreams” for the Kevin Costner film of the same name, tore out everything and started from scratch to rebuild the facility.

Redlands’ new field was then dubbed Field of Dreams.

It was truly a dream, considering its brick-backed backstop, fully enclosed dugouts, plus state-of-the-art field surfaces that transformed the facility.

Krug, incidentally, was a former major league catcher with the Chicago Cubs. He played in Sandy Koufax’s 1965 perfect game at Dodger Stadium.

He caught a one-hitter from his own pitcher, southpaw Bob Hendley. Years earlier, Krug was an All-Citrus Belt League player at Riverside Poly.

Redlands’ baseball took it from there, waging full-time care of the facility first under coach Bob Ramirez, who took over from Dewees, who was followed by Valencia in 2005.

Remkus, who had turned down the job in 1990, continued on a career path that ultimately landed him in the California Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. Turning down the Redlands job might have been considered a turning point for the Terriers’ field prospect.

Twenty-nine years after the field was constructed, the facility has been maintained to award-winning standards.

In December at the Baseball Coaches Association convention, the national Field of the Year will be announced.