By Tris Wykes

NORWICH – The Dresden Fields’ baseball diamond, situated up a long slope from Route 5 and the Norwich Farmer’s Market, appears fine from above. It’s below the dirt and grass that trouble lurks. 

“I’ve told the school board that our field is likely unplayable,” said sixth-year Hanover High baseball coach John Grainger, whose team began practice Monday in the school gym. “If that’s the case, I would rather reschedule a home game and play it away, then to wait for our field to dry out or have to backload the schedule with make-up games at home.”

Hanover High baseball coach John Grainger. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

The NHIAA Division II Marauders are slated to play the initial home contest of their 12-game, localized schedule April 15 against Division IV Sunapee. Despite the time remaining and the fact that the Dresden diamond is currently snow-free, Grainger said he would be “shocked” if that contest or many others could be played there as scheduled this spring.

Rain in April or May usually means the field needs 3-4 days to dry, the coach said, noting his 2019 varsity was able to use the full surface eight times all season. Seven of those instances were for games – and some of those probably shouldn’t have been played.

Grainger is holding out hope that the use of a new groundskeeping company can make a difference this season. However, the coach has enough experience with the Dresden Fields’ packed and waterlogged earth at this time of year to be wary.

“We just had rain and there’s going to be more on the way,” said Grainger, noting Hanover’s JV team uses the same location. “I don’t see the infield being ready.”

Lebanon High’s baseball teams have been using Eldridge Park’s Jim Wechsler Field. Hartford’s pitchers and catchers were allowed to start workouts Monday, but the rest of their teammates can’t join in until next week, per Vermont rules.

Norwich and Hanover residents voted last March, 1,262-728, not to spend $275,000 to improve the diamond’s infield drainage. The Dresden School Board oversees junior high and high school issues for both towns as an interstate district. It distributed mailings to citizens before the vote, advising that the baseball project needed more examination, which would cost Hanover taxpayers another $170,381 and their Norwich peers $77,778.

Hanover High infielder Nolan Gantrish throws to first during a 2018 game at the Dresden Fields. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

Grainer acknowledged that bringing the repairs request to the board at the last meeting before voters took action wasn’t perfect timing. So now he’s hoping to raise roughly $600,000 through private donations for more extensive refurbishments. That would pay not only for fixing the drainage but for moving the infield towards the overly-distant outfield fences that were set when the field was built during the early 2000s. 

The infield backstop now sits almost at the edge of a steep dropoff, meaning fans can’t watch from behind home plate and that foul balls are frequently lost to nearby overgrown areas. Moving the infield would also allow the backstop to be positioned at a more conventional distance from home plate. That’s usually 25-30 feet, but the Dresden field distance is roughly 50 feet, Grainger said.

“We’re trying to fix somebody else’s mistake but I’ve been told the school has no money for us,’ the coach said. “They had a million-dollar budget to build it but I think they used crap soil and it doesn’t drain properly.”

Grainger said he once discovered that one of the infield’s base anchors was off-center and dug down in an attempt to properly align it. He couldn’t, he said, because the fill underneath appeared to be compacted road-demolition detrius, including chunks of asphalt with white stripes painted on them.

Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

“I was told that the field was built when they were tearing up parts of Route 5 down by Hartford High and they used that debris to fill in underneath the field,” Grainger said. “We tried taking soil samples in 2019 and it was so compacted we couldn’t get down as far as we needed.”

Grainer estimates completely redoing the whole field would cost $1 million. By focusing only on the infield, he said, workers could dig down about 18 inches before laying out a connected pipe system needed for proper drainage. They’d then built it back up with the right levels and mixes of sand, dirt and grass. 

Hanover High baseball teams previously played at Thompson Terrace near Mink Brook and not far from the town’s border with West Lebanon. Old timers will recall when the Marauders had an on-campus diamond, its third-base line parallel to Hovey Lane. A really good whack to right field would send the ball over the edge of a wooded slope that now overlooks Merriman-Branch Field. 

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Hanover High baseball players and coaches meet after an April 20, 2016, game at the Dresden Fields. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.