Eddie Hull has looked forward to the first day of practice for the Charlotte 49ers’ baseball team since … well, since the last game of the 2015 season.
Hull and his teammates finally got their wish, as Charlotte began practices for the 2016 season on Friday – and doing so on a new field.
The 49ers will play on a half-and-half field this season, with the installation of a synthetic turf in the infield at Hayes Stadium. The outfield will remain natural grass.
“This is awesome,” said Hull, a redshirt junior infielder who played high school baseball at Charlotte Catholic. “The past few weeks, we’ve been kinda feeling the place out (during individual workouts). We thought it’d be really fast to start, but it’s nothing overwhelming. We give it 6-8 months, and it’ll be perfect.”
The $300,000 project, which was completed just before Christmas, will provide the 49ers a more consistent playing surface – especially when the weather turns bad.
According to team officials, more than 50 of Charlotte’s home games were affected by weather the past three seasons, and more than double that when practice time is added .
“I stopped counting last spring at 31 days that (practice was) either cancelled completely, or we had to go to an alternate site somewhere to get workouts in,” 49ers coach Loren Hibbs said. “Plus, we had a safety issue with our (infield) drainage that we had to get taken care of.
“Add in the time spent working on the field – and our players were the ones doing most of that work – (the new surface is) just more efficient for everybody now, a lot more efficient. Plus, it looks great, too.”
49ers picked 10th in preseason poll
Charlotte, which finished 19-29 overall and 9-20 Conference USA in 2015, was picked 10th out of 12 teams in the league’s preseason coaches poll.
But the feeling among the 49ers’ players is they’re better than that.
“The past two years, we’ve fallen short of expectations,” said junior pitcher/first baseman Logan Sherer, an East Mecklenburg graduate. “But I think we’ve got a team this year that can get a lot of wins and get to the conference tournament.
“We know what we have here, and we think that what we put on the field is going to be better than what other teams will put on the field.”
Favorable early home schedule
Charlotte’s early-season schedule favors the 49ers, with 18 of their first 20 games to be played at Hayes Stadium.
The only games away from home in that span are on March 2 at Kennessaw State and March 8 against Georgia at BB&T Ballpark in uptown Charlotte.
The 49ers open their season at home Feb. 19 with a three-game series against William and Mary.