Artificial Turf is Changing the Game

Warner Park, home to the Madison Mallards and the newly established Madison Night Mares, has undergone a significant transformation, ensuring an enhanced experience for players and fans alike. The Director of Operations, Will Kenne, meticulously oversees the park’s new artificial turf and innovative field management practices, set to improve local baseball and softball events.

Raised in Central Iowa, Kenne began his journey in field management as a high school student prepping baseball and softball fields. “I started with a summer job, working hard on a complex of eight different fields,” he recalls. This initial exposure sparked a passion that led him to pursue further opportunities in the field.

His educational journey took him to the University of Iowa, where he managed the baseball team and honed his turf maintenance skills. “Maintaining turf at Iowa, especially given the challenges of early spring games, was a learning curve. It’s different from grass and dirt but equally demanding,” he explains.

An internship with the Madison Mallards during his junior year solidified his career path. “My boss at Iowa knew my future boss here in Wisconsin. After applying, I got a full-time offer mid-season last year,” he says.

The decision to transition to artificial turf at Warner Park was driven by practicality and versatility. “The main reason was to accommodate our new softball team and to allow flexibility for different age groups and event types,” he states. “The artificial turf enables quick adjustments of base paths and the use of a portable youth mound and outfield fence, enhancing the park’s adaptability.”

Daily maintenance routines have evolved with the new turf. “It’s minimal now compared to last year. I still drag the warning track regularly, but with turf, constant watering is no longer a necessity,” he notes. Grass areas are mowed three times a week, while the turf simplifies infield maintenance.

In the off-season, Warner Park is exploring new opportunities. “We’re considering fall leagues, like slow-pitch softball for adults, to keep the field in use,” he mentions. Despite fewer maintenance demands, vigilance remains high to manage weeds and ensure the field’s pristine condition.

On game days, preparation is streamlined. “Our team manager prefers players to handle most of the field prep, which includes painting lines and maintaining the warning track,” he shares. The collaboration fosters a strong sense of teamwork and responsibility among the players.

Recent heavy rains have posed challenges, particularly with drainage. “The area is naturally swampy, and balancing water levels is tricky. Our new irrigation system helps, but the warning track remains a challenge,” he admits. Quick-drying solutions sometimes create long-term issues, but they are necessary for immediate playability.

Warner Park’s equipment arsenal includes traditional hand tools, a double drum steamroller, and a specialized three-wheeler with a drag. Seasonal interns, guided by Kenne, play a crucial role in maintaining the field’s high standards. “I have a team of four or five interns with varying experience levels. They’re eager to learn, and we work together to keep the field in top shape,” he states.

Agriculture’s influence on baseball is undeniable. “Many of our players come from farming backgrounds, and the materials used in equipment like gloves and bats have deep agricultural roots,” he points out. This connection underscores the broader impact of agriculture on the sport.

The versatility of Warner Park, capable of hosting various sports and age groups, marks a significant milestone. “Being able to switch from youth softball to professional baseball, and then to 14-year-old tournaments, is a game-changer for the community,” he concludes.