The EC baseball team has played six games at home and 26 games on the road this season. The disparity between home and away games is linked to the dangerous, muddy, unplayable baseball field that is EC’s home field, Butterfield Park.
“I just want to find a way that we can get a field that’s playable because our field is horrible and it’s almost to the point that it’s dangerous. It’s just not fun to play on,” said senior centerfielder A.J. Compton.
The issues runs deeper than just the mud, as the school has passed general maintenance duties along to the team prior to games.
During pregame warmups at the home opener in Butterfield Park, most of the North Park players were jogging to stretch their legs while others warmed their arms.
Over on the EC side of the field the starting pitcher was down in the bullpen going through last minute preparations, yet a majority of the team was taking turns dragging the infield and chalking the batter’s box, mere minutes before the game was scheduled to begin.
There was no grounds crew or tractor, both of which are standard expectations for a collegiate baseball team. Even the tools the team did have were subpar, as the chalker required one player to push it forward while a partner smacked the side of it with a fungo bat in order to get the line to drop out.
The rest of the CCIW has taken notice.
“Yeah, it’s kind of a dump. I wasn’t gonna say it, but yeah ... basically,” was the response The Leader received from a North Park player during a conversation about the condition of the field during the Bluejays’ home opener. “It is one of the worst fields we play at,” he insisted.
North Park plays their home games at the Holmgren Complex. According to the North Park athletic website, “The Holmgren Complex is one of the most versatile, well-engineered, all-weather outdoor complexes in the midwest.” The facility was built in 2004, features seating for 3,000 fans, a turf playing surface and is a 10-minute walk from dorms.
Back at Wheaton College, the Thunder play at Lee Pfund Stadium. It also features a turf playing surface, as well as a suspended cable backstop which is supported by a professionally padded wall. It has earned a reputation as one of the finest ballfields in DuPage county and is among the class of the CCIW.
Back at Butterfield Park, the North Park player stated, “You see that brown spot in centerfield? They threw a few gallons of turface down out there to cover the mud.”
“We started putting dirt out in the outfield because that’s how bad it was,” said Compton, who is featured as one of The Leader’s Athletes to Watch on page 15. “I play center, so I knew. This is ridiculous. I was playing, literally, in a mud pile and a swamp [during the home opener]. It had two different terrains out there. It’s just, yeah. I don’t get it.”
A.J.’s younger brother Trey is also a ballplayer for the Bluejays and minces no words when describing his home field, “It’s like the joke of the conference, honestly. People come there and they’re like, ‘What? What did we get ourselves into?’”
“One benefit of having a field on campus is that you get the real home field. We’re playing in a park,” said Trey.
The backstop at Butterfield mixes a combination of rusted out pipes, missing fence panels and a lack of necessary safety netting to really give fans an idea of how much the school has invested into the site.
Foul balls routinely fly in the direction of the parking lot as well as neighborhood homes, which makes the decision of whether or not to attend games a difficult one.
Bluejays manager Joel Southern remained diplomatic whenever Butterfield Park was brought up during a preseason conversation with The Leader.
“Being off-campus hurts [the attendance] for sure ... Our feeling about the facility thing is it’s our facility, it’s where we play, we try to make it an advantage,” he said. “I always say ‘other teams don’t like coming here, they don’t like playing here.’ We play here everyday.”
Although he knows his coach means well, the Bluejays centerfielder is not buying it, “He just says that because he thinks there is some home field advantage. There’s no home field advantage. That’s not a selling point for trying to get kids to come here.”
Southern is certainly not opposed to a new ballpark, though. “If someone wants to build a Yankee Stadium replica in the middle of campus for me, I’m all for it,” he said. “I’m not saying that I wouldn’t take that. I’m not saying that I didn’t wish it were on campus. I’m not saying I didn’t wish it were a palatial place, but it’s fine. It works for us. It’s ours.”
The older Compton brother, who aspires to become an athletic director in the future, sums up the issue well.
“Hopefully they start putting more money into our different athletics. They should do a full circle thing,” said A.J. “Trying to incorporate everybody’s concerns, not just certain [concerns]. I see the football teams getting a little bit more money or a certain sport getting a little bit more money ... I know that most of it comes from who we have here before. Alumni, boosters and stuff like that, but it’d be nice to see what [VanAken] does.”
EC’s Athletic Director has gone on record saying that he is aware of the condition of Butterfield Park and hopes to see change at the ballfield.
“Coach Krohn’s a great athletic director, so hopefully he can fix up some things. We’ll see what happens,” adds A.J. “They’ve been trying to reamp some stuff around the school, so hopefully they take one more step and do some off-campus stuff.”