The concept of home field advantage always meant something different for the Colonials.
At Field No. 6 in Arlington, Va.’s Barcroft Park, GW’s home since 1993, the disadvantages of the field almost overshadowed the benefits of playing at home. With the facility’s problems ranging from poor drainage and undersized dugouts to unusual dimensions and an uneven playing surface, Field No. 6 became a separate opponent for the Colonials.
“It changed the game. You couldn’t really have a solid game there,” head coach Steve Mrowka said, referring to the field’s almost non-existent foul territory. “It was a recreational field before and it was really sub-par for a Division I school.”
This season, things in Arlington are different, evident to the Colonials after they took their new home field for the first time last Friday against A-10 rival La Salle.
Though GW still calls Barcroft home, a $3 million project is underway to renovate the stadium. The renovations, which started in October, have already redefined the field’s boundaries and installed a new turf surface, adding higher outfield walls. The project, dually-sponsored by the University and the Arlington County Board, transforms the park into the type of stadium more commonly seen at Division 1 programs.
By the time the improvements are complete – most likely before the start of next season – renovations will include a 500-person seating capacity, a new concessions area, larger dugouts and improved bullpens on both sides of the diamond.
“You can’t get any better playing surface from turf. The hops are truer, everything’s level, and you just know where everything’s going to go,” senior infielder Ollie Mittag said. “And as a hitter, if you hit it in the gap you know it’s going to roll a little bit. It transforms the entire game.”
Some baseball purists may say the artificial turf surface represents a move away from the traditional baseball field, but the decision has already proved largely beneficial for the Colonials. During the rainy spell last weekend as GW hosted the Explorers for a three-game series, the field held water well enough for all three games to be played, despite moderate downfalls.
Because Field No. 6 will continue to host other community events, including Arlington County Babe Ruth baseball games, the installment of turf also adds a new level of strength that the previous grass surface failed to support.
“The turf gives us more opportunities to play through bad weather. And it won’t get run down because they have so many games out there,” Mrowka said. “We really like the artificial surface. It was the main thing I was shooting for.”
The improvements to the field also serve as a major confidence boost for GW. Leaving the old, aesthetically lacking field behind gives the team a sense of pride in their facilities, senior pitcher Luke Mirabella said. The team has more enthusiasm when they practice, Mrowka added, allowing the coaching staff to get more production out of the Colonials.
Now, players and coach agreed, the Colonials are more intently focused on the game – not on the condition of their playing field.
“It’s a lot more respectable to show up at this field than the old Barcroft,” Mirabella said. “We always felt like the field was holding us back a little bit. But now everything’s top of the line and it just puts us right up their with the top programs.”
While the Colonials seek to string together a successful season this year, Mrowka believes that one of the greatest results of the new field will be the effect it has on the players’ productivity. He hopes the renovations will continue to function in a way that increases the focus of the team and garners more wins.
The renovation project presents benefits for the future, too, transforming into a useful recruiting tool. Now, Mrowka said, potential A-10 prospects will no longer see GW’s baseball facilities as a detractor. Rather, he said, with Barcroft’s new improvements, the program hopes to see a much higher level of interest in joining the Colonials.
“The way things are that with social media, you can’t hide things. Any negative is out there and everybody knows everything now,” Mrowka said. “This is going to help us with recruiting because it is a very attractive facility.”