Dale Stanek admits he cringed when he heard Wade Stadium would get an artificial surface as part of the $4.6 million renovation project at Duluth’s historic ballpark.
Stanek grew up in the Chicago area, idolizing Cubs great Ernie Banks and longing for sunny days at Wrigley Field, with the smell of hot dogs and fresh cut grass wafting through the air.
“I’m such a natural grass and old-school fanatic, so when I first heard they were switching Wade over to artificial, I thought, ‘Oh no, don’t do that,’” said Stanek, who handles scheduling at Wade Stadium as a recreation specialist for the city of Duluth. “But now that I’ve seen it, and the impact this will have, it made perfect sense.”
The newly renovated Wade Stadium will host its first game at 4 p.m. today when the St. Scholastica Saints host the Wisconsin-Superior Yellowjackets in a nonconference baseball game.
The game was originally scheduled for Wednesday but was moved up a day to avoid possible rain or snow. Today’s forecast calls for partly cloudy conditions and a high of 45.
St. Scholastica had its fourth practice of the season at Wade Stadium on Monday, when the pitching mounds were installed on the field and bullpen.
“It’s all ready to go,” Saints coach Corey Kemp said. “It’s exciting. The fact we’ve practiced out here four times since our trip to Florida is a testament to itself. That is something we’ve never done before. It looks great, it plays great, it feels great just to be out there. This is one of the premier baseball stadiums in not just Minnesota, but the Midwest, and we’re just thankful to call it our home ballpark.”
Kemp said the renovated stadium will be a recruiting advantage for his program, and it should encourage participation at the high school level.
“It’s not just for us, it’s for the community,” he said.
Wade Stadium will serve as the home ballpark for St. Scholastica, Duluth Denfeld and Duluth Marshall this spring, and the Duluth Huskies in the summer. That includes practice times as well.
“It’s worked out where we’ve been able to accommodate everybody,” Stanek said. “We sat down at our spring meeting and were able to map out everyone’s schedules.”
Stanek said almost every day in April and May is booked with those teams other than a few exceptions. Hibbing Community College, for example, will be at Wade Stadium this weekend. Stanek said Wade Stadium easily will be used more than double what it was last year. Stanek said Hibbing was looking at driving to Mauston, Wis., near Wisconsin Dells, to get a practice in.
“That’s how far teams are willing to drive,” Stanek said. “If we have a year like last year, where we get two feet of snow in April, we’re going to have teams from 150 miles away calling. My phone will be ringing off the hook.”
Rental fees vary, but Stanek said it is generally about $150 to $200 per game, up from about $60 before. While the city doesn’t have the maintenance costs that it used to, the artificial surface will have to be replaced every eight to 10 years.
“There are a lot of new things out at the ballpark, and we had to charge teams accordingly,” Stanek said.
Beside the artificial surface and state-of-the-art drainage system, Wade Stadium has new lights, a scoreboard and brick work. The old ballpark has come back to life, Kemp said.
“It’s very well worth every dollar we’re spending to be out here to practice and play games,” Kemp said.
The Saints had zero practices at Wade Stadium the past two years.
In fact, the Saints only played three home games at Wade Stadium in that span. Even the Huskies, who play in the summer, had their share of scheduling headaches.
“We used to get a quarter- or a half-inch of rain, and it would just sit there,” Stanek said. “We’d have to cancel a game over just an average rainfall. Now with our cancellations, it’s going to have to be an all-day downpour.”
Kemp helped lead Cherry to a Class A state baseball title in 1997 and expects Wade Stadium to be in high demand as a neutral site for section tournaments. High school coaches already have contacted him asking how they go about securing time at the facility.
“I think every high school kid in the area is going to want to experience a game out at Wade Stadium,” Kemp said. “I know what it’s like for these kids in northern Minnesota, who don’t always play on the best fields. It will be the most amazing ballpark many of them ever have the chance to play in.”
Kemp said the Saints have played on several artificial surfaces, which are becoming more common in the Midwest, but the surface at Wade Stadium plays more true to natural grass than any they have seen. An added bonus to the field is that it absorbs heat, making the surface temperature more comfortable this time of year (On March 9, the all-turf Reynolds Field in Roseville, Minn., hosted the earliest outdoor college baseball game in state history).
Wade’s infield used to look like a minefield with most of the mines detonated. That made it especially tricky for fielding, and no coincidence, the Huskies tended to rank near the top of the Northwoods League in errors in recent seasons.
St. Scholastica sophomore Trevor Bernsdorf of Floodwood will never have to experience that but has heard the horror stories.
“It was a kind of a mixed bag for what you were going to get on a hop, but that’s not an issue anymore,” Bernsdorf said. “From what I’ve seen, you’re never getting a bad hop.”
While more improvements are in the works, everything that already has been done should make for a better experience, for players and fans alike.
“It’s awesome,” Bernsdorf said. “I always loved coming to Wade before it was restored, and now it’s even cooler. Whenever we come out here for practice, I always say, ‘I never want to leave.’”
- Scheduling is on a first-come, first-serve basis. To inquire about openings, go to duluthmn.gov/parks for the stadium calendar or call Stanek at (218) 730-4314.
Who: St. Scholastica (6-3) vs. Wisconsin-Superior (3-8)
What: First game at renovated Wade Stadium
When: 4 p.m. today
Forecast: Partly cloudy, high 45
Wade Stadium timeline
1939: Public Stadium Advisory Committee recommends 35th Avenue West site for building a new stadium
1940: Works Project Administration money approved for funding and groundbreaking ceremony held May 20
1941: The Duluth Dukes played their first Northern League game at the then-Duluth Municipal All-Sports Stadium on July 16
1953: Former Dukes owner Frank Wade dies on Jan. 12, and City Council renames ballpark in his honor the following year
1970: The Dukes’ stay ends when the team loses its minor-league affiliation
1971: Minnesota Duluth begins an 18-year stay at Wade
1991: Duluth authorizes more than $500,000 for a renovation project
1993: The Duluth-Superior Dukes and the Northern League return for a 10-year run
2000: St. Scholastica plays its first game at facility
2003: Duluth Huskies summer collegiate team opens play in Northwoods League
2013: Portion of the exterior wall along the first-base line collapses; $4.6 million renovation project is passed
2015: Wade reopens, complete with artificial turf, new lighting and a new scoreboard