NEW ULM - A few years ago, Martin Luther College Athletic Director Jim Unke had a dream of having a top-notch soccer complex for the Knights to call home, and that plan became reality in 2009 when they opened the new Knight Field, one of the premier soccer complexes in the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference.
But the dream didn't stop there. He also envisioned a baseball field for the Knights, and soon the school will have its own field located right next to the soccer field.
The MLC baseball field is set to see its first action in the spring of 2015. Soon, the dugouts and press box will be put in, meaning the field will be almost complete except for some minor details.
Work has begun on the press box at the Martin Luther College baseball field which is located next to the soccer complex near Boettger Road and Oakwood Avenue in New Ulm.
The baseball field has pretty much come along according to plan. The 2015 opening allows for the grass in the outfield to grow thicker and for everything to be just right when it does open.
"Some of the details have changed, like the location of the dugout, but the game field itself has not changed," Unke said. "We've irrigated it and that has supported awesome grass growth. Our grounds crew has done a pretty intense schedule of fertilizing. It's on the same schedule the soccer field is on. When you ask what our goal is, it's to have premier fields and our grounds department does a wonderful job."
While getting the baseball field done is important, Unke doesn't want to rush it. He'd rather it be done right and have time to grow rather than begin playing on it too soon. As of now, the Knights play their games at Mueller Park.
"The luxury that we have is not overuse, and that's allowed our outfield to grow nice and thick," Unke said. "Had we started playing on it immediately, we would ultimately be trying to catch up."
The field has been used as a practice facility the past couple of years for the Knights and they play all of their games at Mueller Park. Since they began working on the field, head baseball coach Randy Cox and several others have been working hard, often on a daily basis, to make sure the field is coming along according to plan.
"First of all, Randy Cox has done a great job of grooming the new stuff into a playable field," Unke said. "Tim Ranbow, our head of grounds, these are his babies. George Schimmele makes sure that Tim gets everything he needs to make sure that these are premier fields."
Erickson Construction, M&R Paving, A.R.R. Construction and Heiderscheidt Construction have all helped with some of the complexes at MLC and Green Care has taken care of the irrigation. It's all the little things that go a long way in making the complexes shine, according to Unke.
"The support people on our campus are amazing," Unke said. "I can't say enough about the grounds guys. Our maintenance supervisor makes sure that our fields are perfect for home games. We have a commitment from our Vice President of Administration, our President and our Board that allocate the funds that make sure our facilities don't take a backseat to anybody."
The Knights hope that their new facility grows into a complex that the community can use. Unke wouldn't mind seeing some of the summer baseball tournaments and the college postseason tournament coming to MLC some day.
"I'm looking forward to the events, I'm looking for the opportunity to show off our fields," Unke said. "The first thing I'd love to host is the UMAC tourney, because we will have our field, we will have Mueller and Johnson as options. I think it helps the community too, because we have another field. The soccer association has benefitted greatly from the soccer fields and all three high schools have because they play on the fields. Now we have another field that is an alternative, because Mueller and Johnson get pounded in the summer."
In addition to all of the help on the field, Nicklasson Athletic helped with the addition of a scoreboard, which was put up this past spring, and they helped with the safety cap on the outfield fence.
After the dugouts are finished, the next step is a press box, which Unke would like to see be another state-of-the-art facility on the complex.
"The press box, while it may be a step or two away from our football press box, it's our goal to have it be a nice area and to have it be wireless access where we can stream games and do live stats," said Unke. "With that, we will extend that to the soccer field, which is not capable of doing that."
Unke had to convince MLC that premier athletic upgrades were needed a few years ago. The college made a big effort in showing him that athletics is a big role for a lot of the students who attend MLC.
"What I believe is that shows how Martin Luther College and its administration understands and supports the role of intercollegiate athletics," said Unke. "There is a financial support and a commitment to running a program where you can be proud of. I will keep pushing, my goal is not to stand still and keep moving forward with our facilities and the quality of our fields."
Unke understands that having a premier complex takes a lot of hard work. The hours of hard work is countless and the crew cares a lot about the fields.
"Even the organized maintenance, that has all fallen into place now where our grounds crew treat those fields like they're babies, and they take care of them and they know exactly whats coming and when to give them fertilizer. He [the grounds keeper] knows those fields so well, there's a pride in our grounds department."