Northwestern High School is putting the finishing touches on their new baseball and softball fields. In addition to the fields being used for their students, a handful of collegiate games have been played here. JENN GOAD/KOKOMO HERALD
Northwestern High School is putting the finishing touches on their new baseball and softball fields. In addition to the fields being used for their students, a handful of collegiate games have been played here. JENN GOAD/KOKOMO HERALD

Northwestern High School broke ground last year on two new fields that will play host to the softball, baseball, and soccer teams. The work on the turf playing surfaces was completed in October with the backstop nets going up in January and February. 

Once the baseball field was playable, the school hosted a series of collegiate baseball games. A couple of the games were scheduled last fall, with the school picking up additional games when Bethel College was displaced from Grand Park in late February due to a soccer tournament.

“The first games were Bethel College and Cleary University out of Michigan,” said Northwestern Athletic Director Dan Armstrong. “Bethel reached out a couple weeks before they wanted to play here and asked for a spot at the end of February. We made that happen.”

Armstrong said they were able to work the kinks out of the field while providing the colleges a place to play. Last fall, Goshen College scheduled games to be played in Kokomo.

“Our goal is to bring in college teams, particularly who have our players on them and allow our kids to be exposed to college games and get to see their former teammates playing. I want to do the same thing with softball as soon as we get the field able to do those things,” said Armstrong.

He said the scheduling for the college contests will have to be early in the year as the fields will be heavily scheduled for the high school and middle school teams in spring. The ultimate goal for all of this will be to expose the younger athletes to the college game and the speed of play.

“The pitching at the college level is different. It’s not that they don’t see guys that throw hard now, they do. At the next level, you can have a junior or senior pitcher that will be throwing off speed and breaking balls that are nasty and they throw them repeatedly,” Armstrong said. “The breaking pitches, they’re crazy. You can talk about it but you’ve got to see it. To see a guy pop off a ball at 90 mph then follows it with a breaking ball... the high school guys don’t do that. You might have a number one in high school that can do that, but at college, your number three and number four will do that, too.”

Armstrong said there have been a couple schools already reach out to book games at Northwestern for 2019.

“Those teams are looking for fields to play on because a lot of the smaller universities don’t have turf. Early in the season, they can’t play on their fields. Goshen had a foot of snow on their field until the last week. There’s no way to play then and now. It’s all muck. They go south in the spring, but they can’t stay south the whole time,” he said.

In addition to the student-athletes benefitting from watching college level games, the coaches at Northwestern will also be able to make connections with the next level coaches. Armstrong said his coaches have taken an active role in hosting the teams this season. With that, they have been able to make connections with coaches who could come back to them when they are seeking athletes for their programs. Also, Armstrong said he has no doubt that the college coaches that come to Northwestern will return here to watch the high schoolers play after seeing the excellent facility at the school. 

For the students, too, they will have access to schools that may not have been on their radar.

“Our kids are exposed to colleges that they may not have heard of. They’re seeing smaller NAIA schools that can offer more opportunities than Div I or Div II. They have more opportunities for scholarships. Our kids need to be exposed to NAIA or that level of schools because there are avenues that they don’t think are possible. It could seem too expensive. For some, by the time you get an athletic and academic scholarship, you could be paying less than what you would pay at Purdue,” Armstrong said.

For the baseball and softball programs at Northwestern this year, as soon as the teams were allowed to begin practice, they were able to be out on their turf fields. In the past, working in the gym was their only option. 

Varsity Boys Baseball Coach Ryan Ward tweeted on March 13, “It is humbling to think of the weather the last two days and know we have been outside for both of them. Thank you to our school and community by providing the facilities to do so, and most importantly the players for taking advantage of these opportunities.”

Even the day that it snowed on and off, the team was out on the turf.

One additional benefit of the new facility at Northwestern is the fact that it would be possible for Kokomo to host tournaments. Armstrong said between Kokomo Municipal Stadium, Highland Park and the fields at Northwestern, there are opportunities out there.

“This is an enhancement for the community. We have a fantastic stadium downtown and just a few miles away, we have this. What could this mean for our community in the summertime?” he said.

There is still work being done at the new complex, with the dugouts going up on the softball fields right now. Eventually, a press box will go up and all work will be complete.

“I could pinch myself some days,” Armstrong. “It has been a lot of work but when it’s done, it will be amazing.”