PROVO — The BYU baseball team has played on the same grass on its home field since the mid-1960s.
But that’s about to change.
In June, construction crews began tearing out the natural grass to make way for artificial turf that will cover the entire field, and as part of the renovation, a heater will be installed beneath the surface.
Construction is expected to be completed by Sept. 1.
“By having all turf, it’s going to allow us to practice more in January and have more series here in late February,” said coach Mike Littlewood. “The heater is going to keep up with four to six inches of snow an hour. Unless it’s snowing or raining at the time, we’re going to be able to get on this field. It’s a competitive advantage and it closes that gap between us and the warm-weather schools.”
Former BYU player Dave Decker donated $1 million to pay for the heater.
“He came through big time,” Littlewood said.
Last spring, Littlewood and associate athletic director Brian Santiago traveled to Atlanta to visit artificial turf companies.
“The three biggest companies are there,” Littlewood said. “That’s where they make all the turf in the world. We hired someone to do the project. They’ve done Lambeau Field (Green Bay Packers), the (Minnesota) Twins’ field, the (Tampa Bay) Rays' field. They know what they’re doing.”
Among the major factors in the decision to install artificial turf included playability and safety.
“Left field (at Miller Field) is five feet higher than home plate. That was because of the irrigation drainage, the way they had to do it back then,” Littlewood said. “We’ll see a flat infield and a one percent grade on the whole thing. When people see it they’re going to think it’s a natural grass field. It’s going to look just like natural grass. It will be pretty amazing. It’s going to be big league.
"This particular turf comes in different heights. We want the dirt area to play like dirt and the grass area to play like grass," Littlewood continued. "We’re going to try to make it like a natural grass field. The dirt is going to be faster than the infield grass but the infield grass is going to be faster than the outfield grass. The mound is going to be turf, the plate’s going to be turf. The only dirt on this field is going to be in one of the three bullpens."
While other schools like Kansas, Kansas State, Portland, San Francisco, Oregon and Oregon State have all-artificial turf fields like the one BYU is installing, BYU will be the only one with a heater underneath.
“I think people will be impressed,” Littlewood said.
Littlewood played baseball at BYU from 1985-88, years before Miller Park was built, and he said the new artificial turf is another big upgrade.
“I remember when I played here, we just had a chain link fence,” Littlewood recalled. “When I played third base, the glare off those metal bleachers was unbearable. I don’t feel sorry for our players one bit.”