Ralph McKinzie Field renovated

By Andrew Singer

NAPERVILLE | Renovations to Ralph McKinzie Field and talk of an indoor-practice facility highlighted the NIU baseball team’s leadoff banquet Sunday evening.

NIU Athletic Director Jeff Compher and NIU baseball head coach Ed Mathey discussed the state of NIU baseball with past and present Huskies at the White Eagle Golf Club in Naperville.

During his speech, Mathey confirmed that the renovations to Ralph McKinzie Field have been completed for the most part. New bullpens, a warning track, game mound and infield were all put in before winter hit. The only item left unfinished is a turf ring that will be placed behind home plate in foul ground.

It became apparent to Mathey during the Huskies’ annual intra-squad fall series that McKinzie’s infield was unacceptable for the impending season.

“It was hard enough in the fall working through it,” Mathey said after the banquet. “We were trying to teach guys proper fielding techniques when balls were hopping up and hitting them in the face.”

Instead of sending his athletic director an e-mail requesting a new infield, Mathey asked Compher to see the state of the playing field firsthand.

“I asked Mr. Compher to take a walk out on the field with me one day,” Mathey said. “He has been around enough baseball fields to know that we just wouldn’t be able to play on that this season.”

Right-handed pitcher Jeremy Gonzales likes the additions, but wants to stay focused on pitching.

“It’s going to be nice,” Gonzales said. “It’s nice to have the new additions, but nothing changes. I still have to go out there and throw strikes.”

Replacing an infield was easy enough for NIU, but the prospect of building an indoor-practice facility presents a much bigger challenge.

Compher has never hidden the fact that he wants an indoor facility to call his own. During the week leading up to the uDrove Humanitarian Bowl, Compher publicly praised the indoor-practice facility of Boise State. If NIU were to model its facility after the Broncos’, though, it would cost an estimated $10 million.

“We aspire to have an indoor-practice facility,” Compher said during his speech at the banquet. “During the week of the football team’s MAC Championship game, we discussed how beneficial it would be to have a facility for all of our teams including the baseball team to use.”

The NIU baseball team is currently training for the 2011 season in the DeKalb Recreation Center. The Huskies are forced to rent the facility at odd times to ensure a consistent place to practice.

“Unfortunately it’s not our own facility, so we have to rent it and work around other rentals,” Mathey said. “So, we usually get it really early. Usually 5:30 to 7:30 in the mornings.”

Opening day for the Huskies is on Feb. 18 at Southern Utah.