BVU Plays Historic Softball Game on Peterson Field
The Beaver softball team made history in March by hosting the first games ever played on Peterson Field. The Beavers rolled out a welcome mat of FieldTurf for the College of Saint Benedict on March 23 in a double-header at J. Leslie Rollins Stadium.
Buena Vista University’s softball team made history in March by hosting the first games ever played on Peterson Field. The Beavers rolled out a welcome mat of FieldTurf for the College of Saint Benedict on March 23 in a double-header at J. Leslie Rollins Stadium.
A diamond in the rough? Hardly, the diamond resonated, a bright green expanse rising between an icy 3,097-acre lake and the steeple of Schaller Chapel.
“It was a pretty sweet atmosphere,” says Mandie Berneking, BVU softball coach and field mastermind. “We’ve kind of had this planned for four years.”
Four years ago, BVU was set to host a nonconference game on March 17. The thaw that spring left the diamond the Beavers share with Storm Lake High School as a bit of a soggy question mark. The University purchased materials and built an outfield fencing unit that could be erected on Peterson Field should the need arise to play on the gridiron.
“Playing on the football field shows Coach Berneking’s passion: Play anywhere, play anytime.”
Joy (Johnson) Gross
“We had the fence as a backup plan, but didn’t use it,” Berneking says.
That is, until March 2019 when a snow- and rain-filled month left the diamond at Storm Lake High School saturated. With a tough Saint Benedict team planning to make the trip to BVU, Berneking and her squad sprang into action with the support of the grounds and maintenance crew.
“The grounds crew and maintenance staff were amazing in helping us put this together,” Berneking says.
Home plate was positioned on the 20-yard-line at the out-of-bounds stripe on the visitor’s sideline. Backstop padding helped bolster the foundation of a mobile backstop. Softball goal nets and a series of mobile guards protected players in dugout areas. Fans used the football bleachers on both sides of the stadium.
“We wanted to protect people in the stands,” Berneking says. “We had a left-fielder who caught a ball (barely in foul territory) and ran out of play. We didn’t want her (on a play like that) to run into fans.”
Baserunners were awarded an extra base on two occasions when fielders stepped beyond orange cones that marked an outline for the field of play. And, at times, pitchers had to reposition a mat that held the pitching rubber in place. Otherwise, the doubleheader played out just as any other softball Saturday would. The field measured 210 feet down both lines and 230 feet to center. So, it was regulation in length, meaning the four home runs smacked by the Beavers all counted.
There are times when that’s not the case as teams play on football fields in domed stadiums. Home runs are counted as ground-rule doubles in cases where fields don’t reach regulation depth.
“This is a fairly common thing to do in the north,” Berneking says of putting a softball diamond on the football field. “For the College of St. Benedict to do this, it wasn’t that out of the ordinary. We kind of stole some ideas from them and they were all about it.”
So were the Beavers, who used the afternoon to acclimate themselves to Midwest weather after a spring break trip that featured a 7-1 mark in Tucson, Ariz. The Bennies prevailed on this historic occasion, using a few big innings to overpower BVU’s four home runs on the day in posting a sweep. The Beavers got back to their winning ways with a sweep of Grinnell four days later in games played on the diamond BVU shares with Storm Lake High School.
Despite the setbacks, it should not diminish the imagination, the sweat, and the cooperation it took to transform Peterson Field at J. Leslie Rollins Stadium into a softball venue for the first time.
Grant Mollring, BVU football coach, shared his perspective from a place he doesn’t experience often: In the stadium’s bleachers.
“Coach Berneking and I were in a conversation a while back and the idea of playing the game on the football field was brought up,” he says. “I was all in favor and wanted to do what we could to help out in any way.
“What an awesome experience for her team to play a game on campus and it was fun to watch from an angle I’m not used to being at in the stands,” Mollring continues. “Hopefully this will be an annual event and having students on campus next year (instead of on spring break) will only add to the atmosphere.”
“It was awesome,” says Joy (Johnson) Gross, a BVU Athletics Hall of Famer who starred on the softball diamond, and played basketball and tennis for the Beavers from 1982-86. “I remember playing for the Beavers on the field at West Ninth Street in Storm Lake, as well as on the field by East Elementary School. We also played at Storm Lake High School and, back then, our home field was the one used by St. Mary’s High School, the field behind the Corner Pocket (now Malarky’s).”
According to a story in The Tack, the earliest days of the program, the early 1970s, the Beavers hosted softball games on the grass behind Siebens Fieldhouse.
Gross almost had to pinch herself as her daughter, freshman Peyton Gross, pitched a game on campus last month, her first home contest in a BVU uniform. She threw strikes and battled as the fabled Schaller Chapel clock sounded its chime every quarter-hour.
“I never thought I’d this happen,” says Gross, the team’s unofficial/official photographer, a passionate parent who populates the BV Softball Fan Page on Facebook with photos. “Playing on the football field shows Coach Berneking’s passion: Play anywhere, play anytime.”
Berneking smiled about confluence of events that led to a softball field taking up a sizeable chunk of J. Leslie Rollins Stadium. She says the field likely hasn’t seen its last softball action. Like Mollring, she’d love to give the field a go when class is in session.
“This is a great backup plan for us,” she says. “It’s especially a great way to get some nonconference games at home before conference play begins.”