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updated: 4/4/2013 8:09 PM

Looking for a field, teams find a gem in Lee Pfund Stadium

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Some things just seem impossible.

Playing baseball early last week in the western suburbs certainly falls in that category.

But while most teams struggled to make playable fields that either were frozen or swamped by thawing frost, a handful of resourceful area teams took advantage of one of the best kept baseball secrets in DuPage County.

Lee Pfund Stadium in Carol Stream became a very busy place last week.

The American Legion Post 76 baseball field has a history of hosting local teams, but last year the facility received a major upgrade of more than a million dollars. The additions included lights, new dugouts and a new suspended cable backstop and wall.

By far the biggest upgrade -- the one that made last week's games possible -- was the installation of an A-Turf artificial surface on the entire field. Similar to the artificial surface found on most prep football fields in the area, it negates the effects of waterlogged, frozen and generally unplayable surfaces so common during the spring baseball season.

Like the football fields, maintenance is near nonexistent compared to regular dirt and grass fields.

"Having coached in the north for some time, I know the impact turf specifically has in this area," said Wheaton College baseball coach Matt Husted. "In this climate it's going to give us a great opportunity to practice and play when most people don't."

Last week's freeze and thaw pattern proved especially frustrating for high school teams trying to get their fields ready to play during a busy and crucial spring break schedule.

Wheaton Warrenville South and Batavia were the first prep teams to take the field last Tuesday at Lee Pfund Stadium. It was cold, but the field conditions were perfect.

It gave both teams a much-needed opportunity to field grounders, track flyballs and face live competition.

"This is great," said WW South coach Tim Brylka. "Just to be able to play is a great opportunity for us. There's no way we could have played on our field."

Three other days featured prep baseball at Lee Pfund Stadium: the best $175 rental fee any of the teams could have spent. On three of the four days last week, Wheaton College also played in the late afternoon and evening.

Perhaps most impressive was the college game played between Northwestern and Iowa on March 22. When the big-time Big Ten programs couldn't find a place to play, they came calling to Division III Wheaton College to get in their game.

Five other colleges called to use the field on that one day.

"The feeling was always that this is something that could become very popular," said Wheaton College athletic director Julie Davis. "In this particular year there's definitely been a lot of interest."

Turfed baseball fields are becoming more common at the college level, although far fewer high schools are adding it. At such a high expense it'd take a ton of rentals to recoup the money, but perhaps high schools will determine a need in the future.

For Wheaton College, which operates the stadium in cooperation with Post 76, the benefits have been glaring. Husted said his team was able to start practicing on Jan. 28. Named for the longtime baseball coach of the Thunder, who in his 90s still attends their games, Lee Pfund Stadium officially opened in April 2012 to rave reviews within the community.

The added flexibility in the schedule and the ability to play night games allows for student athletes to be in the classroom later on game days. That especially holds true for visiting teams.

The potential recruiting benefits to the Thunder baseball program are clear as well. With seven different area high school teams playing last week at Pfund Stadium, the facility recruits itself as word spreads.

The project isn't finished. Phase II, which will cap the $3 million vision, includes spectator seating, a press box, restrooms, a concessions stand and locker rooms.

Once completed, Lee Pfund Stadium will become even more of a destination spot for local teams. Expect the IHSA to come calling for the Thunder to play host to postseason regionals and sectionals.

Already it's been a bright spot in an otherwise gloomy spring season thus far.

"We've been inside for so long we just needed to get outside and get a game in," Brylka said. "I think once the word gets out you'll see a lot of teams wanting to play here."

Follow Kevin on Twitter @kevin_schmit

kschmit@dailyherald.com

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