Jacksonville Armada Sails into Suns’ Home Stadium

photo courtesy: SMG

Bragan Field at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville has been the home of the Jacksonville Suns since the park’s completion in 2003. A bright spot of the downtown area and the first finished project of the Better Jacksonville Plan, the Grounds have become a signature stadium for minor league baseball, pairing a classic ballpark feel with all of the modern conveniences of Major League venues.

This spring, they welcome a new tenant: the Jacksonville Armada soccer club. The Armada, a member of the North American Soccer League (NASL), Division II in the American soccer pyramid, was the brainchild of Jacksonville businessman Mark Frisch and former Major League Soccer player Darío Sala. The two first proposed the idea for the team two years ago, and with a great deal of effort and persistence, that dream has come to fruition.

The team made their regular season debut with a brilliant victory over FC Edmonton by a score of 3-1 last month. Five days later, the park was converted from a soccer pitch into the Suns’ diamond, a process that will be repeated constantly throughout at least the next three seasons when the Armada’s lease with the Baseball Grounds runs out.

EU Jax caught up with Suns’ head groundskeeper Christian Galen to find out what that conversion process entails. Galen tells us that the crossover process usually happens the following day. “However,” he adds, “if the games are scheduled within a three day window, then we will begin as soon as the stadium empties. For instance on May 9th the Armada have a match against the Indy Eleven at 7:30pm, and we will begin the crossover at midnight because the Suns begin a five game home stand against Pensacola at 11:05am Monday the 11th. We have to do it this way because the process takes anywhere from 18 to 20 hours to complete, and that is with a crew of at least a dozen pros contracted through Briggs Golf Course Construction working with me, and it is nonstop.”

The main obstacle Galen and his team encounter each crossover is the breakdown and reassembly of the pitcher’s mound. Six steel beams form the mound’s foundation, with each weighing hundreds of pounds. A forklift and many strong backs are required to remove these beams from the ground. According to Galen, “Each one must be removed with a great deal of care because the steel beams must align in order for the mound to be level.” Next, he says, “We immediately fill the holes with sand, and then we begin the process of laying the infield and warning tracks with sod,” 16,000 to 20,000 ft2 of sod to be exact, so much new grass that it is delivered on the back of a tractor trailer and placed on the field in 40 ft rolls that are 3 ft wide and weigh upwards of 400 lbs.

“The process is very labor-intensive and time-consuming because each foot of sod must lie perfectly so that the finished product looks and feels natural and seamless for our players and fans.”

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After the sod has been laid, it must be watered. This creates another obstacle because the park’s sprinkler system is not designed to cover the entire playing area with water. It is still a baseball park first, and the sprinklers are set up to leave the diamond dry. This means that Galen must hand water the new grass that covers the diamond and tracks. “I am out here every day with a hose making sure that the new sod has enough water. New sod needs extra water to help it take root, and we need that durability on Game day.” The next step is painting the pitch, which can take hours. “The process of painting the lines was at first very time consuming. The lines must be perfect and as a baseball guy, it took me a little extra time getting the pitch’s spacing and lines just right.” The final step in the process is the removal of the Suns ample signage and its replacement with the Armada’s, and then it is finally time to turn the field over to the players and coaches, and let them get it on.

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JACKSONVILLE ARMADA SOCCER

For info and tickets at www.armadafc.com or 1-844-2ARMADA.

 

SUNS

JACKSONVILLE SUNS BASEBALL

2014 Southern League Champions, the Jacksonville Suns host nightly promotions like Belly Buster Mondays, Fifty-Cent Family Feast Tuesdays, Businesspersons Special Wednesdays, Thursday Night Throwdowns, Friday Family Fireworks and Kids Run the Bases Sundays. The following games will be played at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville in the Downtown Sports Complex. For times, tickets and more information visit www.jaxsuns.com.

 

About Woody Powell

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