FITCHBURG — For the bulk of the time they spent on the varsity baseball roster, Monty Tech’s 15 seniors were the traveling nomads of Central Mass. baseball.
Season after season, year after year, wet field conditions left Monty Tech’s home baseball field looking more like a swamp than a playable diamond and forced the Bulldogs to play under the unofficial motto of “Have Bat, Will Travel.”
“I want to say probably 2017 or 2018, we’ve just been playing all over the place,” Monty Tech coach Kevin Anderson said. “The last two or three years we played at Fitchburg State or Westminster’s Babe Ruth Field. Our last season (in 2019) we had 21 games and 19 times we were away. We just lived in Worcester.”
This is why, after years of lengthy bus rides to and from multiple road and home venues, the Bulldogs were grateful to have had the opportunity to close out the shortened 2021 season with not one, but two home games over the final week of the season. The outcomes of those contests were not ideal — Monty Tech fell to Worcester Tech in extra innings on May 28 and lost the final game of the season to St. Bernard’s last Thursday — but being able to enjoy the comforts of home still felt like a win for the Bulldogs.
“I think it’s been five years since this field existed, basically, and was in use,” said Monty Tech senior infielder and pitcher Jake Ross. “Obviously, it wasn’t the outcome we wanted, but it was nice to be here on a field that we can call our own.”
“It’s nice to actually be right near my school and be able to play. It opens up the fan section, too,” Bulldogs senior catcher Dominic Hall said after closing out his high school career on Thursday against the Bernardians. “You can invite more people that don’t have rides (to the game) after school. It’s definitely nice.
“It’s easier, too, because here we can go right from school and start warming up immediately and have a lot more time to warm up. When we’re traveling, it’s just stretch, throw and play ball. There’s no real time to do anything else.”
Tucked into the back corner of the school’s property, the Bulldogs’ baseball field sits at the base of a small hill with the outfield, specifically left field and center field, abutting Roper Road. Though most of the diamond levels off nicely, the water from melting snow — and any any runoff from the road above — flows down the slope and puddles, often leaving portions of left field and the infield saturated and unplayable.
“The seniors that graduated last year didn’t play on that field. It’s a nice setting and a nice field, but wet. It’s like a swamp,” said Monty Tech athletic director Dave Reid, who said a contractor was brought in this spring to retool the diamond to alleviate some of its issues with excessive moisture. “They cut down the edges so there are no moats and so the water doesn’t sit and it rolls off.”
According to Reid, the infield clay was also replaced, a move that was welcomed by Ross, who spent most of his final season with the Bulldogs playing third or second base.
“Before, it was really hard with some divots and stuff and it was overgrown a bit,” said Ross, a Winchendon resident who will enroll at Northeastern University in the fall and begin his studies toward a degree in engineering. “It plays better now than I remember from when we first practiced here. I think it’s definitely better than it used to be.”
The new clay also benefitted Hall behind the plate as truer bounces made it easier for the senior catcher to anticipate how to block pitches in the dirt.
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“The bounces are more tried and true. You don’t usually have too many wild balls going to the left and the right. It plays pretty well for that. All the clay plays well because it’s packed down. I’ve heard from so many pitchers saythat the mound is good, too. It’s not all dug up,” said Hall. The East Templeton resident, who along with Ross and 13 of their teammates, graduated on May 27, has already found full-time employment in his chosen field — electrical — at Applewood Controls in Ayer. “Having everything packed down is so nice because you don’t automatically have those divots where other catchers put their feet in. But that backstop, man, it’s pretty far away.”
Anderson, too, was glad his players got to experience half of this year’s home games at the school field as opposed to the Westminster Babe Ruth field.
“I think it’s great for the kids. The biggest thing for the kids is that they didn’t get to play in front of their family and friends very often,” he said. “The fact that the kids can get out of school and come over and play in front of their family and friends is definitely a must.”
And though few among the Bulldogs likely enjoyed the long bus rides back to Fitchburg from Worcester — especially after a rough outing — Hall did point out one positive aspect about the travel which the Bulldogs may find they begin to miss next season and in the years to come.
“It can be good,” he said, “because you get out of school early.”