Last week, the Division I and II baseball state tournaments moved to spring training stadiums across the Valley.
It’s a luxury only found here and in Florida, allowing high school kids the special treat of competing on the same fields as major leaguers.
Predictably, the players are ecstatic about the chance.
“I love playing in it because the fields are so nice,” Brophy junior right-hander Ryan Castellani said. “It’s awesome that Phoenix has that.”
For coaches, though, it’s certainly a switch from the norm. Much like in football (skinnier goal posts) and basketball (different backdrop), there are strategic changes that come with the more high-profile venues.
The outfields at the major league parks are vast, allowing for more base hits but also swallowing would-be home runs.
The game between Mountain Pointe and Desert Vista at Phoenix Municipal Stadium on Thursday was 1-0 through four innings, but it probably would have been a much different game if it was played at a high school as several long fly balls were tracked down. At the shorter prep field, the ball might have left the park or hit the fence.
“Let me tell you this,” Basha coach Jim Schilling said. “The last two years we played Perry (at Salt River Fields) we’ve went to extra innings with them, and both years we would have won both games on walk-off home runs” had the game been in a high school park.
Several teams play in the stadiums at least once in the regular season, the Pride played at Phoenix Municipal where they played Tuesday night in the consolation bracket and Desert Vista, which was eliminated on Saturday, played at Chase Field and HoHoKam Stadium, to get used to the dimensions. In fact, some coaches are constantly considering that factor when analyzing the makeup of their defense.
“In the playoffs we better have kids out there that we don’t have to hide,” Hamilton coach Mike Woods said. “That kid will do fine in left field for now because he won’t get in much trouble out here (on a high school field), but in the playoffs he may not play. We’ve had a couple kids who were good hitters but liabilities defensively. Not so much on a small field, but you knew someone would hit a ball out there or they wouldn’t be able to make the throw.”
Coaches seem to be split on the location change at the end of the postseason.
Schilling, no doubt scarred by the tough-luck losses to Perry, would prefer the high school parks because teams are more familiar with those surroundings. Woods sees an argument for and against the stadiums.
Corona del Sol coach Dave Webb, though, is an ardent supporter of the bigger fields.
He doesn’t like the bandbox feel at some high schools, and he believes it helps even the playing field when cheap home runs can’t skew an outcome. Webb pointed to the opposite-field home run by Chaparral’s Dylan Cozens last season at Glendale Camelback Ranch, which won the Division I state championship for the Firebirds.
“That was legit,” Webb said. “He didn’t bloop it over someone’s field. I love it, actually. There’s a lot of frustration seeing some of the situations we get in at fields that are way too small.”
There are no similar venues for the local softball teams.
Up until last year, the finals were played at Rose Mofford Sports Complex — a setting which lacked the prestige of the major league stadiums.
However, the 2012 championship games for Divisions I and II were played at Arizona State softball’s Farrington Stadium, and will be there again in a doubleheader on May 13.
“Our girls are jealous,” Red Mountain softball coach Rich Hamilton said. “The boys get to play at Hohokam or Salt River or Chase Field. They’d say, ‘Why can’t we play somewhere?’ Well, there’s no place to play. There’s no stadium. You tell them, ‘Hey, you want to play in a stadium? Make the finals.’”
Farrington Stadium may have slightly bigger dimensions than the high school fields, but Hamilton said it has no bearing on strategy. It’s a win-win for the teams that make it there, as they earn the right to play in a better atmosphere and don’t need to change their gameplans.
“It’s awesome,” Hamilton said. “Being the first one, it felt pretty special to get there last year.”
In some respects, the local baseball coaches might be spoiled. They’re used to the big league parks, and would probably yearn for the chance if it wasn’t available. However, when seasons routinely come to an end inside those stadiums, it leads to second-guessing.
“It’s a catch-22 because sometimes you’re like, ‘Come on, if we were only on another field,’” Woods said. “But you win some and you lose some. You never know what kind of (high school) fields you’ll play on here anyway. The bad hops, the choppers, some places are bandboxes. If I had a vote I’d probably stay there. It’s fun for the kids.”