Edison High School is breaking ground on a state-of-the-art multi-use turf field
Bridgewater Courier News
As construction of his high school’s state-of-the-art baseball diamond nears completion, Edison principal Charlie Ross said his heart breaks for the varsity seniors, who won’t get a chance to take the field for an official game.
“The biggest thing is it should be a time for celebration of an accomplishment that we have one of the premier facilities in the state,” Ross said, “but it’s tinged by the fact that the kids that we built it for won’t get to play a regulation game on it.”
The high school baseball season, initially suspended in the middle of March following the coronavirus outbreak, was officially cancelled earlier this month with Gov. Phil Murphy ordering schools statewide to be closed with remote instruction to continue for the remainder of the academic year.
Edison shut its program down in the middle of March on the same day the team was scheduled to board a bus to Elizabeth for its first scrimmage.
Aerial view of Edison’s new turf field. (Photo: ~submitted photo)
“It’s bittersweet,” said senior pitcher CJ Banyacski of the new field, which he visited earlier this week. “When I first saw it, I thought it was beautiful. Obviously, it’s going to be one of the best fields in the Greater Middlesex Conference, if not New Jersey. I’m sorry I couldn’t get on the mound to represent Edison.”
Ross said he hopes to be able to provide an opportunity for the seniors to take the field, even if its for an intrasquad game with underclassmen, at some point this summer, should Murphy relax a stay-at-home executive order and social distancing guidelines in time for a return to play.
‘Like a roller coaster’
Vinnie Abene, the program’s longtime head coach, said his vision is to combine a playing opportunity for current letterwinners with a reunion of baseball alumni, integrating Edison’s storied past with its promising future.
“The emotions are like a roller coaster right now,” Abene said. “I’ve had an opportunity to sit back and think about it. For me, it’s not just about the seniors and the players here now. When we step out onto that field, it means a lot for anybody who has every played or coached here. It’s so unique, it’s so exciting. I would have never imagined how excited I am and how excited our players are.”
Vinnie Abene (Photo: ~file photo)
FieldTurf, which has installed more than 20,000 artificial surface playing fields at professional, collegiate, high school and recreational venues worldwide, built Edison’s multi-use field, on which physical education classes can be held and on which other athletics teams at the high school will be able to practice and play.
Available playing space on Edison’s campus pales in comparison to that of some other Middlesex County schools similar in enrollment. The installation of a multi-purpose turf field, which is durable and drains water instantly, will help alleviate some of the high school’s space woes.
The Edison Township Board of Education approved construction of the $1.34 million turf field at no additional expense to taxpayers, footing the bill through the district’s current capital reserve fund, including money the district saved from negotiating its contracts with vendors, according to Ralph Errico, the school board’s president.
The turf field, upon which construction commenced in late January, reflects the high school’s official colors and makes it unique on a national level.
The warning track, base lines, batter’s box and pitcher’s mound are Vegas gold, while the rest of the field is shaded scarlet red.
All that remains to make the diamond player-ready is for FieldTurf to spread the infill, which consists of sand and crumb rubber, used to stabilize the carpet’s durable fibers.
Edison’s trademark “E” is spread out for placement on the high school’s new turf field. (Photo: ~submitted photo)
“I knew going in I was going to love it, but now that it’s almost ready, I can’t even describe how excited I am,” Abene said. “Now that the field is down, it’s surpassed anything in my imagination.”
Edison led a nomadic existence, playing most of its games on the road in previous years, with the baseball team only hosting about a dozen games over the past three seasons.
The team played the rest of its contests at the opposition’s field or at the Edison Boys Baseball League on Suttons Lane, where Edison established a temporary residence.
Ross said nearby water main breaks, a generally high water table and poor grading conspired to make Edison’s grass field unplayable.
The principal said he has seen several players hanging around the ballfield this week, longingly staring at it from behind a chain-link fence, with some even having a socially distant long toss.
“The kids stand outside the fence and look in,” Ross said. “I’ve seen our ballplayers come over with their gloves, wistfully playing catch like they are locked out. It’s almost like the old days with kids looking through the knotholes in the fence at a big-league ballpark to sneak a peak and not be able to get in.”
Ross said the Class of 2020 and this year’s varsity underclassmen “need to be the first to be able to play on that field.”
“When the umpire says play ball and points to the pitcher, it’s got to be those kids lined up in positions one through nine,” Ross said. “What that will look like will depend on a lot of things.”
Instead of hanging their heads during the pandemic-cancelled season, Abene’s players worked in concert on a fundraiser that generated $600 in supermarket gift cards that Ross distributed to families in need on the south side of town.
An anonymous benefactor matched the $600 with a donation in honor of the baseball program. Others in the school-community followed suit. Abene said his players wanted to covertly fundraise with no public recognition for their efforts.
“It was important to the seniors that they really didn’t want to be recognized for this and it was important that they were doing it out of the goodness of their hearts,” said Abene, who still felt compelled to share their tale of benevolence. “I just thought this is a story during a time like this that would be a good thing for people to hear. It’s off the charts, the fact that they didn’t want to be recognized and wanted to make sure the money stayed within the community. They have what they need. They are fortunate. They wanted to do as much to help other people during this time that they can.”
Abene said his humble ballplayers, especially the upperclassmen, who have had few opportunities to play home games behind the high school, deserve the opportunity to be the first to step on the gorgeous new diamond.
The high school’s trademark block E is emblazoned in shallow center field, new dugouts run parallel along the baselines and a new scoreboard will be erected in right field.
The complex will maintain its moniker of Mike Krychowecky Field, named after the Edison alumnus (Class of ’63) who coached the Eagles to two state titles and four Middlesex County championships.
Edison is now the seventh member of the 31-team Greater Middlesex Conference with an artificial surface baseball field, which will give the Eagles a competitive advantage over their grass-playing peers, whose games and practice time can be limited with inclement weather.
“I think having turf baseball fields is slowly becoming the norm now,” said Mike Garlatti, an Edison resident and former Rutgers University assistant coach who is currently the Colorado Rockies northeast scouting director.
“This will give them an opportunity to get on the field in early March through early April, when other teams struggle to get outside, which will allow those guys to get more game situations and more reps than the natural-grass teams.”
Jim Muldowney, a 1973 Edison graduate and New Jersey Scholastic Coaches Association Hall of Fame inductee, who transformed the high school’s baseball program into a perennial state power, posting a 275-75 record while leading the Eagles to seven conference tournament championships and two state titles in 13 seasons, called the new turf field “a game changer.”
“When the student-athletes and the community see the commitment of the administration, everybody kind of buys in,” said Muldowney, whose 1993 Edison team ended the campaign ranked fourth in the nation.
“I just think it ups everybody’s game as far as thinking that they are special. It impacts everybody. You can get your lower levels (sub-varsity) out there, and some of your other sports can get out there, too. It’s just a huge advantage across the entire athletics department.”
Mike Pede, another Edison alumnus who currently serves as co-chairman for the Greater Middlesex Conference’s baseball committee, said he is “happy that the program is getting a field they can call their home.”
“Back in the 1990s, when we had our run, no one came to that place and beat us,” Pede said. “That turf field is going to be really nice and they are going to be able to use it for years and years to come. The kids in the program deserve it, and it’s always about the kids.”
This season, Abene, who has won 243 games during his 17-year career, returned the bulk of a lineup that finished 14-12-1, matching its victory total of the two previous years combined while finishing third in the White Division.
Winner of the 2018 conference freshman tournament and runner-up in the 2019 conference jayvee tournament, Edison has been building toward making a conference varsity tournament run and was expected to enjoy tremendous success this season.
With the new turf field, Ross said the district will be able to trim some transportation expenses and that players’ classmates will be able to resume attending games.
Ross said students who would normally flock to Mike Krychowecky Field following after-school activities or the conclusion of on-campus practices in other sports were unable to get to contests at the Edison Boys Baseball League.
Of being without a home field for three years, Abene, who is the White Division’s reigning Coach of the Year, said, “behind the scenes, it was challenging for the coaches and the administration.”
“The players handled it as graciously as possible. They never complained. They just went to work and worried about the baseball part of it. It was a stressful time, but once we hit the field, there were no signs of us being frustrated or disappointed that we weren’t on our own field.”
Now, those players must wait out a global pandemic for an opportunity to step onto their new field.
“We’ve been working really hard since September, from the freshmen all the way up to the seniors,” Banyacski said. “This was always a dream for us to play at home and represent Edison baseball.
“It stinks that we can’t get out there, but we’ll be back eventually.”
Greg Tufaro is a national award-winning journalist who has covered scholastic and college sports at MyCentralJersey.com for 30 years. For unlimited access to MyCentralJersey.com, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.