October 16, 2019
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Brewer considers privately funded turf to replace waterlogged ballfield

Gabor Degre | BDN
Gabor Degre | BDN
During a steady rain on Tuesday afternoon, water pools up around the infield on Heddericg Field, the home of the Brewer High School baseball team. Because of wet conditions, the Witches were unable to play a game on the field this spring and have played only six contests there in the last three seasons. The  Brewer High School District Trustees have hired an engineering firm to come up with proposals for renovating the field and the adjoining athletic complex.

This spring proved challenging for maintaining most baseball fields in northern and eastern Maine. Games were either delayed or moved to the few artificial turf facilities in the region due to weather that often left the natural diamonds wet and muddy.

At Brewer High School, it was nothing new.

Senior catcher Andrew Kiley played more “home” games for the Witches on the turf at the University of Maine in Orono than at Heddericg Field — located right behind his school — during his recently completed three-year varsity career.

He also played more home games at Husson University in Bangor than at Heddericg Field. Kiley and his teammates not only did not play one game on their home field this season, but also they rarely practiced there because of a saturated outfield stemming from an early winter and a rainy spring.

“It’s frustrating but we can’t do anything about it,” said Kiley, whose team played its only home playoff game this spring at Mansfield Stadium in Bangor. “We don’t want to just destroy the field for no reason, but it’s disappointing not being able to play on our home field right by our high school, in our community, with our fans.”

Brewer School Department athletic administrator David Utterback is among those seeking a solution.

The Brewer High School District Trustees have contracted the professional engineering services of Brewer-based CES Inc. to develop renovation plans for Heddericg Field and the space immediately beyond its outfield fence that could include an artificial playing surface.

“We’re trying to get the engineering plan firmed up and in place with as close to an exact estimate as we can on our preferred option and our secondary options so we can form a formal fundraising committee and seek some help from some people that we think would be key players in this,” Utterback said.

The lack of a true home field also proved challenging for baseball coach Dana Corey and his staff. Their squad held only two full practices at Heddericg Field this year and played just six of its 24 regular-season games there during the past three seasons because of swampy sod.

“There’s times when we practiced inside when you could see it in their eyes that we needed to try and do something to keep things lively,” Corey said. “It got to the point where you’re not going to gain a lot being inside.”

Utterback stressed that the intention is to come up with some plans, then to find people and businesses in the community who would support it financially.

“We really do not want or intend for this project to be something that’s a burden to the taxpayers of the city of Brewer,” he said. “We feel this project would be utilized by more than just the city of Brewer, so we want this to be a grassroots fundraising effort that involves a wider community, so to speak, for the use of a complex like this.”

The preferred option is to install artificial turf and lights on the entire area, which Utterback said could accommodate three full-size soccer fields for use in a variety of sports. A secondary option would put artificial turf on the Heddericg Field footprint.

“It’s a great field, and I’d like to hopefully see it last, whether it’s with drainage or artificial turf,” Kiley said. “What’s the point of having it if you can’t play on it?”

Home to a duck

Charles “Chatterbox” Heddericg taught civics and history at Brewer High School from 1944 to 1971. He also was the Witches’ baseball coach for 27 years as well as a “bird dog” scout who often brought the talent of baseball players around the state to the attention of the Boston Red Sox.

Heddericg was inducted into the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame in 1981, and in 1987, the Brewer High School District Trustees named the newly built baseball field behind the school in his honor.

Heddericg Field became the home of the Witches and the Brewer Falcons American Legion team.

Utterback coached at Old Town High School before taking his post at Brewer and routinely sought to play the Witches during the preseason.

“I always recalled that Heddericg was going to be hit or miss depending on how late the snow melted off the field, and there were at least two times when we had to scrimmage Brewer over on Maple Street field because it was a late-drying field,” Utterback said.

Heddericg Field’s late drying tendencies have been exacerbated in recent years by its location. It sits below the adjacent Coffin Field softball complex and the Brewer Shopping Center parking lot, and lacks a working drainage system under the outfield.

“I would say the field’s become progressively worse in its ability to dry and dissipate the water through the subsurface,” Utterback said. “I’m not sure if it’s even doing that at all. It may be just relying on the sun and wind to evaporate water above the surface.”

Things got so damp that this spring a duck the baseball team named “Denise,” after longtime former athletic director and current assistant baseball coach Dennis Kiah, took up residence near the fence along the right-field line.

“We had a duck living on our field and we always joked about it,” Kiley said. “We’d see a bird fly by and say, ‘There goes a niece, coming back to haunt us.’”

A multipurpose solution?

Utterback sees a renovated Heddericg Field addressing several issues, from serving an expanding interscholastic athletic program on campus to providing an outdoor base for Brewer High School’s physical education students, who today are confined largely to the school’s gymnasium for classes.

His preferred option includes artificial turf for a larger area behind the high school whose uses could include field hockey, soccer, lacrosse, baseball, softball and as a practice site for football.

Such a facility, centered around Heddericg Field, would serve the athletic interests of all ages in the city, Utterback said, and could generate income as a host of sports tournaments.

“The ability to have activity on a complex like that for 12 hours a day for six or seven months a year is going to benefit so many kids through phys ed and athletics and parks and rec summer programming,” he said. “The possibilities are endless.”



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