It’s not always fun to play baseball in Oregon.
From October to May, games and outdoor practices are regularly conducted on soggy, mud-filled grass and dirt fields. Many activities are washed away entirely, forcing teams to hit the batting cages or invade the nearest gym.
Ryan Gipson and the Linn-Benton Community College baseball program were tired of letting Mother Nature dictate their schedule. With Gipson and Corvallis Knights President Dan Segel leading the charge, LBCC secured enough funding to install an artificial turf infield at the school’s Albany campus.
The new diamond was completed Thursday.
“It’s enormous for our program and it’s enormous for the game of baseball in the state of Oregon,” said Gipson, a former Oregon State player in his fourth year at LBCC. “This is a place people will be able to get games in when the weather is bad.”
The Roadrunners are the first Northwest Athletic Conference baseball program in Oregon to go artificial. Washington’s Lower Columbia and Edmonds also have turf.
LBCC’s home opener, a doubleheader with Treasure Valley, is slated for March 3. By that time, the Roadrunners will have likely held several outdoor practices on their turf field while most of the Pacific Northwest is stuck indoors.
“The field is a great asset for Linn-Benton and for our community,” said LBCC athletic director Randy Falk, who also praised the efforts of Gipson and Segel. “It looks really good and we are excited.”
The lifespan for the infield is eight to 12 years. The batters’ box and pitching mound require regular maintenance and patchwork.
Northwest Sports Turf Solutions, a company founded by Crescent Valley High baseball coach Ryan Starwalt, shepherded the seven-week installation project. The entire infield arc — including the mound — is artificial, along with the area behind the plate extending to the dugouts. The outfield remains natural grass.
Starwalt decided to form his company after advising multiple turf projects throughout the state. Back in 2014, Starwalt and a batch of volunteers partially turfed CV’s infield themselves when the coach realized how costly it would be to have it done professionally.
Phase 2, a fully turfed infield, was completed this summer.
“At that point it just hit me that this is something I might enjoying doing and a way to help a lot of people,” Starwalt said. “I thought it would be a great business and a career change.”
Starwalt is stepping away from teaching at CV on Dec. 15. He will continue to run the baseball program.
LBCC and Gipson, who originally reached out to Starwalt for advice, became his first paying client.
“They were on a pretty tight budget and they wanted to get a lot of turf,” Starwalt said. “It was a great deal for both of us. This was our first chance to do a field for someone else, and it gave them a chance for the most affordable price in the history of turf fields.”
Gipson lauded Starwalt for making LBCC’s turf aspirations a reality.
“Without him, we wouldn’t be able to do this right now,” Gipson said. “(Starwalt) is out here doing things like the seaming and precision cuts, stuff that’s technical that I don’t know about. We provided labor with volunteer hours from coaches, players and ex-players. Our guys are going to have a sense of pride and a sense of ownership in this facility, and that’s pretty special.”
Gipson and Segel, a former Roadrunners baseball player and chair of LBCC’s athletics advisory board, worked tirelessly to raise funds for the project.
The Corvallis Knights pledged the initial donation to get the ball rolling. From there, LBCC alumni and other interested parties pitched in enough money to make it happen.
“I owe a lot of where I am today to my experience at LBCC,” Segel said. “I always want to give back as much as I can.”
Gipson, a member of OSU’s 2006 national championship team, was hired to restart LBCC’s baseball program in May 2014. The Roadrunners eliminated baseball after the 2013 season.
LBCC has improved every year under Gipson, finishing atop the NWAC South Region last spring. Gipson is 77-54 overall in three seasons with the Roadrunners.
On Oct. 16, Gipson was named the school’s assistant athletic director/development officer.
“This field project is just the most recent example of what (Gipson) is doing for Linn-Benton in general,” Falk said. “He has both playing experience and terrific mentorship with OSU and coach (Pat) Casey in particular. He has an understanding of what it means to be a winning player, and that translates directly to what it means to be a winning coach.”
LBCC is also planning to replace its nearly 30-year-old gym floor at the beginning of spring term. New bleachers will be part of the gym project.