SB : Diamond cuts: Carrier Dome transformed into softball field, hosts games for 1st time in history

first_img Facebook Twitter Google+ Comments One by one, every Syracuse softball player made it a point to go up to Pete Sala and thank him.With a hug and a thank you, the players made sure Sala, the Carrier Dome managing director, knew they were grateful for the sporting event he was instrumental in pulling off.‘A lot of the softball players work for us in our student crew, so we see a lot of them all the time,’ Sala said. ‘They’re always appreciative of what we do for them. I think it was a huge success.’The event Sala helped put together was the Duel at the Dome, which saw the Carrier Dome host softball games for the first time in its 32-year history. The facility that houses SU football, men’s and women’s basketball, and men’s and women’s lacrosse was transformed into a softball diamond last weekend for the Orange’s games against Colgate and Canisius.With planning and quick adjustments, a weekend that featured three collegiate games, countless high school softball scrimmagesand even a Little League game ended as one Sala and his staff could take pride in. And while the game was a novelty that attracted large crowds, the Syracuse coaches and players hope that when the team goes outside to play in Skytop Softball Stadium, the crowds follow.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text‘We hope that this is just the beginning,’ senior first baseman Kelly Saco said. ‘That it’s going to get bigger and bigger from here. … This is definitely the start of something big.’Saco and her teammates had to be ready for faster ground balls hit on the turf field. In the high school games, players over-slid bases on occasion. And with a roof above, judging routine fly balls and pitches at the plate became a unique challenge.And like the players, Sala and his crew were forced to make adjustments on the fly once the games began Friday afternoon.When foul balls started deflecting back into the press box on the near sideline of the field, Sala was in the box immediately to determine the next course of action. With the risk that the glass windows separating each box might shatter, Sala quickly got on his walkie-talkie and called for nets to act as a barrier.‘Yesterday was definitely a little bit of a learning experience,’ Sala said Saturday night.Besides dropping safety nets, Sala said the crew also had to figure out how to groom the field. Between innings, a member of the crew raked over the pitching circle during the game Saturday, after it had been worn out by 10 hours of action beginning Friday afternoon. And another top priority was making sure spectators were aware that softballs could head in their direction.With a short porch in left field positioned at the end zone where players entered the locker rooms, fans had the unique opportunity to catch a home run ball – or get struck by one.And that situation unfolded in Syracuse’s game against Canisius on Saturday.‘That lady that got hit in left field, I just don’t think she was paying attention,’ Sala said. ‘With the left field porch so short, you’ve got to pay attention.’‘She’s fine,’ Sala added. ‘She just didn’t catch it.’The work for Sala started the morning after SU’s lacrosse game against Providence last Wednesday. A large blue curtain was dropped at midfield, separating two diamonds.For Syracuse’s games, the other side was simply a bullpen area.For the field to be NCAA-sanctioned, the bases had to be mounted. The crew took the infill out of the field turf, drilled into the floor of the Dome and set the base sleeve into concrete.The distance down the left and right field line also had to meet NCAA guidelines. Left field was a short 190 feet down the line and right field was 197 feet. The goal posts used during football season were the perfect fit to act as foul poles.‘They need to be 30 feet, and that’s exactly what those are,’ Sala said.But the different site also had drawbacks for the players. SU head coach Leigh Ross said the on-deck circle and coach’s box were tight fits. And foul territory was slim to none.The only requirement Sala said missed the cut was the distance from home plate to the backstop, where a net was set up. But Ross cleared the issue with the opposing teams before the weekend got underway. In reality, Sala and Ross both admit this past weekend was a dry run with grander aspirations in mind. Sala said he hopes a successful event like Duel at the Dome will draw national powerhouses from the South to come to Syracuse in February for a tournament.Ross wants to reap the benefits even sooner. In her sixth season at the helm, she said her players haven’t received the attention they deserve so far. SU received five votes in the most recent USA Today/NFCA Coaches poll and has been to the NCAA tournament the past two seasons. Last season, the Orange clinched its first-ever tournament win over Louisiana State before bowing out two games later.With this event, she hopes some of the more than 1,000 people that came to the Dome for SU’s two games this weekend continue to follow the team when it plays home games at Skytop Softball Stadium.‘I think when people watch us they get hooked,’ Ross said.Syracuse ace Jenna Caira agrees. Although part of the attraction of the weekend’s games undoubtedly has to do with the novelty and rareness of the event, Caira thinks the fans will support the Orange this spring, even after the big blue curtain is taken down.‘Look at the whole crowd and there was a basketball game tonight,’ the senior pitcher said Saturday. ‘… I hope that we put on a good enough show that they will come out and support us throughout our conference season that gets started up next.’dgproppe@syr.educenter_img Published on March 26, 2012 at 12:00 pmlast_img read more