The feel of yet another blast of wintry weather began to trickle onto the field Thursday as the Granite Bears wrapped up baseball practice.
“I never did get warm,” said Coach Jon Cawley as he moved around the diamond, instructing this year’s players.
Still, he feels a warmth inside when he thinks of all the volunteers who have helped the baseball program in the past year.
Since the end of last season, the entire infield has been razed and reformed.
Fans showing up for the first home game March 8 might not notice anything different in the field, but that’s by intent.
The field used to have a gradual slope from right to left, Cawley noted. First base was about a foot higher than third base, and the same was true as the outfield sloped from rightcenter over to the left foul pole.
In fact, the soccer practice field and the tennis courts also were higher than the baseball field, so in heavy rains the water would flow down through the outfield fence.
There were times when it would rain, and the infield would dry out and the outfield would still be puddled, he recalled.
Athletic Director Donald Price explained that the land has settled over the decades since the bottom was once used as a landfill.
“It’s not that we didn’t see the need,” said Price. “We didn’t have the finances available for this.”
Doing the work that was necessary might have cost $40,000 or more if the school had to fork out the cash, guessed Cawley.
Price credited ordinary citizens for stepping forward and taking initiative. Supporters reached out to Cawley and proposed the improvements.
These aren’t just the parents of current players. Price said some of these folks either have children that already graduated or don’t attend Mount Airy High. They just saw a need and wanted to help.
“One of the many reasons a lot of people in the Mount Airy community do this is they approve of what Mount Airy High School does,” Price said. And it isn’t just athletics; people support the arts as well.
Cawley said a huge help came from Scott Graham, who “oversaw the project and gave it legs.”
Mose Cockerham is a grader who volunteered a lot of time to smooth out the land. Now there are no low spots, and the field has a slight crown in the middle so that water rolls to the sides and back behind home plate.
Richard Sowers loaned most of the heavy equipment that was used. There was about a half a million dollars’ worth of equipment out on the field at one time, Cawley said.
Cooke Rentals also provided plenty of machinery.
With all that rain draining to the sidelines, four drains were installed in foul territory, said Price.
The drains feed pipes that run underground back to the main drain behind home plate, said Cawley.
To keep players from tripping over the drains while chasing foul pop-ups, the drains are hidden under a layer of granite dust and gravel around the fence.
This 12-foot strip of gravel also serves as a warning track so players know when they are getting close to the fence, the coach said.
Johnny Beamer at the granite quarry helped with the gravel, and William Smith Trucking carried 20 loads to the field.
The new infield grass is a turf-type Bermuda that’s a little faster, Cawley said, meaning ground balls aren’t as slowed down as before.
The infield dirt isn’t just common soil. He said this is a composite of red clay and infield conditioners.
The dirt holds onto some moisture so it isn’t as dusty. And, he added, with heavy rain, the composite allows water to pass through it into the ground below.
Matt Adams and Mount Airy Country Club loaned some landscaping equipment, the coach noted.
Others playing a big part were Mark Key, Kemp Moser, and James and Austin Crossingham, he said.
Local welder Jack King created the new foul poles.
Some of the folks who contributed were anonymous.
“It’s one of the truly unique characteristics of this community,” said Price. “People want to help, but they do not want recognition.”
Oftentimes the team approaches the Mount Airy Youth Foundation with a hand out for supplies, but this time the team didn’t need any money, Cawley said. Instead, the foundation helped by reaching out to the community for volunteers and assisting with organizing activities and labor.
Cawley wanted to thank Price, principal Sandy George and assistant superintendent Bryan Taylor at the city school office for their support of this project.
Staff reporter David Broyles contributed to this article.