Mahtomedi High School baseball coach John Hardgrove calls playing at St. Paul, Minn.’s pristine, new CHS Field “pretty standard fare.”
“Once,” that is, “we found out how to get into the building.”
CHS Field, a $63 million ballpark that holds 7,210 people, opened this spring in downtown St. Paul. Mahtomedi, a school from the Twin Cities’ eastern suburbs, was one of the first teams to play at CHS Field when it competed there last month in the Section 4AAA semifinals and finals. It wasn’t the Zephyrs’ first foray in a larger venue than normal, but there are some adjustments for every team playing postseason games in unfamiliar, cavernous settings.
Here are three ways the section champion Zephyrs dealt with them:
Retain the Routine
Officials from the St. Paul Saints, CHS Field’s primary tenant, offered its underground, indoor batting cages to Hardgrove ahead of section contests May 27 and 30. But the long-time skipper decided to hold batting practice in the same manner and same place Mahtomedi always does — at its home stadium, where batters can see the ball sail when they connect with it.
“We try to keep the routine pretty normal,” said Hardgrove, who’s overseen the school’s baseball program the past 33 years. “We figured we’d just take BP at home and try to do that and stay relative.”
That goes for all aspects of pregame preparation — stretching, bullpen, fielding and so forth. High school athletes are creatures of habit — especially by the postseason — so the more familiarity, the better.
Show Up Early
Before edging Woodbury High School 4-3 in eight innings of the 4AAA semifinal, the Zephyrs arrived about an hour early to get their bearings. Their actual pregame regimen wasn’t any different, but the extra time to soak in their surroundings helped, Hardgrove said.
Especially when dealing with a more lively playing surface than normal and different field dimensions.
“I’d like to think the newness has worn off, and our kids, it’s like a home field for us, pretty much,” said Hardgrove, whose club is back at CHS Field on Friday for a first-round state tournament game against Robbinsdale Armstrong. “We’ve got a little bit of a comfort thing there.”
Mahtomedi’s home ballpark is about 310 feet down each base line and 380 to dead center. The independent minor league Saints’ digs is 330 down the left-field line, 320 to right, 402 to left center and 400 to right center.
Sight lines in a large, mostly-empty stadium take some getting used to, too. They come with the potential distraction that accompanies holing up in state-of-the-art locker clubhouses and dugouts, but Hardgrove said that wasn’t much of an issue with his squad.
“They certainly do adjust pretty well without changing things too much,” Hardgrove said. “Guys only hit the ball so far, and after that, it’s just about playing angles and going after it.”
Embrace the Experience
It’s easier for a team like Mahtomedi to walk into a big-time park and be comfortable. Including their inaugural state tournament appearance last season, the Zephyrs have played at Midway Stadium (the Saints’ old home, which held about 6,000), the University of Minnesota’s Siebert Field (1,420 seats), Fort Pierce, Fla.’s Longwood Sports Complex (350 feet down the line) and CHS Field.
Should they win Friday and again Saturday, a Monday state championship bout at Target Field (39,504-capacity) in Minneapolis awaits them.
“We’ve had a little bit of everything,” Hardgrove said. “The last couple years, everything’s fallen in place.””