Oregon is planning changes to PK Park.
New coach Mark Wasikowski confirmed that the Ducks plan to install a new turf on the baseball field and bring the fences in about 20 feet, but it is uncertain if those changes will be done in time for next season. Kendall Rogers of D1baseball.com was the first to report Tuesday night that Oregon will invest $2.5 million for alterations to the ballpark.
“Nothing official, but I do know we are in the planning phase of a lot of the changes,” Wasikowski said during an interview Wednesday morning. “We are in discussions on a daily and weekly basis getting plans for what to do moving forward. I don’t know if they will be able to knock it out before this coming season, I can’t commit to that, but I do know for future years.”
Wasikowski said some redesign plans began with George Horton as coach and the administration brought those ideas to him when he returned to the school in June. Wasikowski was an assistant under Horton from 2012-16 before spending the past three seasons as head coach at Purdue.
PK Park still has the original turf that was installed for Oregon to bring the sport back in 2009, but a faster surface will be added as the replacement.
“If the ball splits the outfield over the second baseman or shortstop or a ball goes over the first or third baseman down the line, is it going to hit and get to the wall or slow down to where the outfielder can cut it off?” Wasikowski said. “That’s the biggest issue of the park. If you can have a ball that is well struck in those areas and have it turn into a double or triple instead of constantly being a single, that is going to open it up. The whole idea is to recruit a team that is athletic so how can you separate yourself from a team that is less athletic? If you have an average runner in the two corner outfield spots, they should get penalized by the speed of the turf because they can’t cut the ball off in a gap or down the line and the ball gets to the fence and now it is a double or triple. If you’ve got an athlete out there to shut that down and keep it to a single, then fine. Right now, the best equalizer is the speed of the turf. An average or below average athletic team can come into PK Park and not get exposed with a slower outfield turf. I don’t like that.”
The fences from left field to right-center field will be brought in closer to where the warning track currently begins.
“Moving the fences in 20 feet will allow you to probably get a couple more balls out a game, at least one more,” Wasikowski said.
PK Park has always had a reputation as a pitcher’s park, but Wasikowski said the changes can make it more fan friendly and make UO a more attractive spot for hitters.
“By speeding up the turf, bringing the fences in a bit not a bunch, those things will help the word on the street when it comes to negative recruiting and take that bullet out of the chamber,” Wasikowski said.
The Eugene Emeralds, who play 38 games each summer at PK Park, will pay a portion of the renovation costs.
Oregon will begin fall practice on Sept. 15 and while the roster is not finalized, Wasikowski expects about 40 players at that time. The Ducks must cut to 35 for the start of the season.
Wasikowski said that five players from last year elected not to return following the coaching change.
Infielder Kyle Froemke, who batted .160 as a freshman, has left the program along with outfielder Vinny Tosti, who hit .194 in 23 games. Catcher Heath Pickhardt, who played in three games, is also gone.
Pitcher Tyler Frazier, who was 0-2 with a 6.91 ERA in 11 appearances as a freshman, and Jack Noble, who allowed 15 runs in nine innings, have also left the program.
Tyrese Turner, a shortstop from La Palma, Calif. who signed with the Ducks in the fall, will not report to the team. He was drafted by Milwaukee in the 38th round of the June draft, but elected not to sign with the Brewers.