There are a number of advantages in being a resident of St. Charles.
Both of the city's high schools -- St. Charles North (21st) and St. Charles East (39th) -- were recently named to the "Top 50" annual list published by U.S. News & World Report that ranks each state's high schools. They were the only 2 Kane County high schools to make the list.
Both high schools were also recognized as Blue Ribbon Schools by the U.S. Department of Education.
In 2011, St. Charles was named as the No. 1 place in the country for families in the annual survey conducted by Family Circle magazine.
From a recreational standpoint, St. Charles is home to several top-notch golf courses, including historic Pottawatomie Golf Course which was rated as the 15th best 9-hole golf course in America by Golf World magazine in 2010, as well as outstanding bicycle/jogging/walking paths along the picturesque banks of the Fox River.
Baseball has long been a part of the fabric of St. Charles, too.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of the St. Charles Boys' Baseball Association.
Located on Legacy Boulevard just off Kirk Road in St. Charles, the East Side Sports Complex is the home of the St. Charles Boys' Baseball Association.
A few years ago, St. Charles Boys' Baseball travel commissioner Paul Jones took his 14U team to a national tournament held at the Cal Ripken, Jr. facility in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Jones came away very impressed with "The Ripken Experience," which included playing on 1 of the 7 all-synthetic turf infield-outfield surfaces.
"I immediately thought that this would be perfect for northern Illinois in the springtime," Jones said of the replicated grass surface used to ensure consistency and professional playability of the fields.
In 2011, FieldTurf was installed on 1 of the 4 baseball fields (infield only) at East Side.
"We put together a plan and worked in unison with the St. Charles Park District," said Jones. "The park district supported us and we flipped the bill for it. We wouldn't have been able to do it without the support of the park district and people like Bob Carne."
Earlier this year, FieldTurf was installed on a second baseball field (infield), and the finishing touches were applied to a third FieldTurf infield last week at East Side.
"Most of the feedback (from the first field) was positive and it kind of whetted our appetite," said Jones, who is in his 15th year of involvement with St. Charles Boys' Baseball. "Why not try to have two more fields just like it?
"It is a key location for kids playing baseball in St. Charles," added Jones. "We're hosting a series of tournaments (travel teams) on the weekends and other St. Charles kids will be playing weekdays. It's great for our travel teams because they're able to play in their own backyard. And we're able to attract some of the best competition in the state to St. Charles every weekend."
East Side Sports Complex will be a destination spot for many youth players and their parents this baseball season.
"We have tournaments scheduled almost every weekend from April through August," said Jones, whose own son, Jared, is coaching the St. Charles Black 13U team alongside former St. Charles East/Augustana standout Vince Frede.
The advantages are many to playing baseball on the FieldTurf surfaces -- consistent play, the near-elimination of rainouts, and the reduction of risk for injuries to name a few.
Last summer, the record-heat and drought-like conditions turned local dirt baseball diamonds into mini-dust bowls.
I remember picking dirt out of my teeth and fighting losing battles with dust entering my eyes on several occasions while coaching some of my son's games last summer.
I won't have to worry about those things happening at East Side Sports Complex this summer.
"From a maintenance standpoint, it is just so much easier," Jones said of the FieldTurf surface. "It'll be busy but we can play 10 games in a day on these fields without any problem."
No need to line the batter's box and chalk the first- and third-base lines between games -- just gather the coaches together for a meeting with the umpires prior to the game and play ball.
The field itself includes a bedding of packed limestone with an underground drainage system to go with a crushed rubber and sand mixture. The "carpet" is then tacked down around a wooden frame with an adhesive.
"We've received a few complaints that the fields aren't natural dirt and that the kids have to wear different (turf) shoes instead of metal spikes but the majority of kids and coaches are really excited to be here because it's different," said Jones.
Much like the famous line from the movie Field of Dreams, "if you build it, they will come."
"I recently received phone calls from Wheaton Academy and Westminster Christian about wanting to play games here because their fields were unplayable," said Jones. "I recently spoke with Benet Academy's (baseball coach) Scott Lawler and he said he wants a field like this over there."
According to Jones, the life expectation of the FieldTurf surface is between 10 and 15 years -- with the exception of a few excessive-wear areas around home plate and first base.
"We'll probably have to cut out the batter's box and area around first base and install a new surface every three or four years," said Jones.
The fields have already supplied a big boost to the St. Charles Boys' Baseball travel programs and high schools.
"Both Len (Asquini) and Todd (Genke) had their teams practice on it this spring," Jones said of the St. Charles East and North varsity coaches. "St. Charles East's freshman team played a game here at East Side a few weeks ago when their field was unplayable."
St. Charles East baseball teams have won 5 regional titles in the past 9 years. The Saints captured the state title in 1999 and placed fourth in 2004. St. Charles North earned 3 regional championships from 2007-2010.
St. Charles East graduate Matt Reynolds is now a relief pitcher for the Arizona Diamondbacks, while former North Stars standout Jeff Holm plays Class A ball with West Michigan (Detroit Tigers' farm club).
Other notable former St. Charles East/North standouts are Wes Benjamin (Kansas), Dan Ditusa (Seton Hall), Tony Rallo (Judson), Zach Hirsch (Nebraska), Jake Thornton (Illinois State), Brian DelaTorriente (Illinois), Gabe Bauer (Evansville), J.R. Carbonell (Evansville), Cole Livermore (Northwestern), Danny Jimenez (St. Louis Cardinals' draft pick), Ryan Priola (Monmouth), Eric Jones (Evansville), Max Payleitner (Valparaiso), Tyler Deetjen (Valparaiso), Mike Hoscheit (Butler), Jim Caine (Kansas/NIU), Ryan Richardson (Michigan State), Robert Wendt (Kankakee), Tommy Konrad (Dayton), and Brian Szarmach (Cincinnati), among others.
Undoubtedly the list will continue to grow.
"This community loves its baseball," said Jones. "We want St. Charles to be one of the best baseball communities in the state."
You can reach Craig Brueske at firstname.lastname@example.org