Since its construction in 1984, 1,143 games have been played at Pete Taylor Park. Over the past 36 years, the facility has undergone multiple improvements, including a new outfield wall in 2016 and a performance center in 2015.
In March of 2019, the Golden Eagle baseball team was in Ruston, Louisiana, for the first conference series of the season when Southern Miss President Rodney Bennett, Ph.D., called head coach Scott Berry about the addition of an artificial playing surface. Without hesitation, Berry’s answer was yes.
“It was imperative for us to make that move toward synthetic grass,” Berry said. “I researched it quite a bit, and everybody that I visited with that has synthetic grass 100% said it was a no brainer and that it would change your life.”
The primary goal of installing an artificial field was to reduce the need to cancel or postpone games or practices.
“What continued to happen is we were losing so much time with rain or weather delays, and all of that has an impact on the amount of time student athletes are at practice or at a game and out of the classroom and away from their studies,” Bennett said. “It also has an impact on our fans who are coming to the ballgame.”
It is recommended that infield playing field surfaces be renovated every five years and outfield surfaces every 10-15 years. The last time the park received a new infield and outfield was in 2013 and 1993, respectively.
“The sod was really starting to show the effects of the weather that we have in South Mississippi,” Bennett said. “When I took all of that into consideration I said to [Berry] that we have to make a change. I sort of initiated the ‘what are we going to do’ but the ultimate decision was what he thought was best for our program.”
Berry knew a turf field would be beneficial for the team and be an aid in the development of the program. Players and staff are now able to use the facility on their own time as well as reduce the amount of time needed to set up or take down for practice.
“Being able to have that comfort that you’ll be out in the field the next day Is very exciting,” senior shortstop Matthew Guidry said. “I love getting out here without having to worry about making sure the field is set up and making sure that we get all of our jobs done. We can just kind of get out of here, put the screen and go.”
The total cost of the field was $1.3 million. Funds came from both the university and private donors.
“With the ripping out of the existing field, then the base of it, which was pretty unstable dirt and clay so we had to dig in some areas, hauling everything away, putting a new base of drainage and rock down, then the actual purchase of the turf and the installation put us around 1.2 or 1.3 million,” senior associate AD for development Brian Morrison said.
After researching various companies Berry came to the conclusion that Field Turf would be the best company to install the surface. Sports Contractors Unlimited, LLC, out of Hattiesburg, Miss., was responsible for the initial groundwork before the turf was installed.
“We brought in several different companies. Field Turf is the one that seemed to know what they were doing with baseball fields and we got a lot of good recommendations on them,” Morrison said. “They had some technology called ‘cool play’ that the infield they use keeps the field cooler than some traditional things.”
The project started on Oct. 28 and was completed on Jan. 22 in time for the 2020 season.