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The wait is over for Green Bay Southwest

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The Southwest baseball team used to play on a natural grass outfield and a dirt infield, but now the entire field is turf. Rich Palzewic photo

A new baseball/softball complex was completed in time for this season

By Rich Palzewic

Contributing Writer

GREEN BAY – It’s been a long wait, but Green Bay Southwest High School has a new baseball/softball complex.

An official ribbon-cutting ceremony took place earlier this month.

As a part of the Green Bay Public School District’s $92 million referendum passed in November of 2022, the renovations of the complex became a reality.

“This is so awesome,” Athletic Director Amy Hogan said. “It’s nice to bring our softball team to the campus. We don’t have to go to John Muir Park anymore — those were nice diamonds, but this new complex makes things nicer. The girls and coaches love it.”

Both of the playing surfaces are completely turf – both the infield and outfield.

The baseball complex formerly had a natural grass outfield and dirt infield.

“It’s a little bittersweet,” Hogan said. “Bruce Vandenplas was intricate in bringing the original baseball field here. He had the foresight to have it onsite. There were many fundraisers held to make (the original field) possible. The field was turned a bit (to the left from home plate) to utilize the space better.”

Southwest baseball Coach Matt Rukamp said the new field has been a “game-changer.”

“We were able to practice outside earlier this spring than any spring I can remember,” he said. “We recently played a doubleheader and were able to get both seven-inning games in even with the rain, as the field drains so well and never got too slick. If we still had that dirt infield, we never would have got the second game in — the dirt wouldn’t have been able to take the water. And, it’s all maintenance-free. It is an asset to our school and community — we are beyond fortunate and appreciative to the voters in our community for making this a reality.”

The new softball complex at Green Bay Southwest has allowed the team to play its game on campus instead of carpooling to John Muir Park, where the team used to play. Rich Palzewic photo

Having said that, Rukamp said the old Vandenplas Field will always be special.

“I played there several times as a kid between high school and Legion ball, and it was a great field,” he said. “In fact, it was one of the reasons I chose to come and coach at Southwest. It’s a credit to Bruce for taking care of it all of those years.”

Unfortunately, Rukamp said, “Time is undefeated and the needed maintenance of the old field was too much to keep up with.”

“This referendum provided an opportunity for us to make the switch to turf, and with it,  eliminate much of the routine maintenance associated with a dirt field,” he said. “We have already seen the benefits of that.”

Though Rukamp said the benefits of going to turf are many, it’s the transition from turf to dirt that is tricky.

“I think most teams will tell you going from dirt to turf is a welcome change, as you get more predictable hops and solid footing,” he said. “The challenge for us is going from turf to dirt. That is more of an adjustment. I think more schools in our area are looking to make the switch to turf because it allows more high school baseball to be played. Our springs are so unpredictable, and with turf, we get to take some control back from Mother Nature. I love a well-maintained traditional dirt ballpark, but I’ve become a fan of turf and its benefits.”

Southwest softball Coach Shawn Neuville also echoed Rukamp’s thoughts.

“With the new field, I hope this helps bring new ladies into the program,” he said. “I want the girls to have fun out here and get better. This is a great facility. It’s different now compared to playing at John Muir. At our first home game, I told the girls, ‘It’s different now — there are more eyes on you.’ Once the game started, there were soccer players over here, parents filtered in and with the baseball team playing, there are lots of people here.”

Neuville said the girls used to carpool to John Muir.

“With being on campus, we can have more trainer sessions and more workouts so we can build better athletes and improve our softball program,” he said.

Ashwaubenon softball Coach Shannon VanLaanen said if it wasn’t for the new turf at Southwest, his team wouldn’t have been able to play an earlier season doubleheader on its home field — Pioneer Park — due to the rain that fell before the game.

“I’m so happy for Southwest,” he said. “Their staff and athletic director worked a long time to make this a reality. It’s also great for area softball. It’s a top-notch facility — they did everything right.”

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