HOOVER, Ala. – If you think playing this kind of football in a multi-purpose stadium in Hoover, Ala., was going to be a major challenge for city officials, you better think again.
Hoover handled it.
Turning Regions Park into a soccer venue for the NCAA Men’s Division I College Cup was as common to them as the leaves turning in the fall.
Built in 1998, and extensively renovated in 2007, Regions Park serves as home for the Double-A Birmingham Barons baseball team and high school football. Immediately at the conclusion of the Barons’ season at the end of September, Hoover city personnel began the not-so-extreme makeover from baseball to soccer.
Workers shaved down the mound and sodded the infield. They brought in rolls of extra thick grass (costing nearly $50,000) with about three more inches of dirt than the field is accustomed to. The reason being was that they wanted it almost instantly secured to the infield’s surface.
“After we laid it, sand it, we wanted to be able to and play on it the next day and think it’s always been there,” Hoover Executive Director Allen Pate said. “We laid the sod and over-seeded with rye grass so it would be green and have what you see today. We have been watering it and fertilizing it and doing all the things that you need to do to have a good field. I hope the players will find that to be a better quality field than they’ve played on this year.”
Mission accomplished. The surface passed the test with flying colors.
“It’s kind of weird just seeing that [it is a converted baseball field],” said Isaac Cowles, whose penalty kick clinched Charlotte’s match against Creighton on Friday. “To be honest, I really loved the grass they brought in. As a soccer player, that’s the No. 1 priority for me.
“I don’t know how they did it, but the field that we were playing on was phenomenal. It mimics our home field so that’s why we love it. It’s very nice.
Hoover High School’s decision not to use the stadium this season made the field’s transition easier.
“They’ve been wanting to play in their [home] stadium and try it for a year,” Pate said. “Since this was coming, we kind of suggested to them if you wanted to try it, this would be a good year to do it.”
With the field in place, the other aspects of the facility needed to be addressed. It needed bleachers, ones that normally run from what would be left field into center field. In a normal year, the city would erect bleachers that would hold roughly 1,000 spectators. But this was no normal year in the Birmingham area. The same tornado that flattened Tuscaloosa on April 27 also hit this area. Though the storm hit 17 miles away from the stadium, damage from its winds destroyed the bleachers, which were stored beyond the left field wall. In fact, Hoover city personnel had to clear away 60,000 tons of debris from the storm.
City officials ordered new, larger capacity bleachers that hold 2,500 spectators, allowing the stadium to seat 13,600 fans for the College Cup.
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Capacity was no problem in the locker rooms either. The two are larger than most baseball stadiums because they were built to accommodate football teams. That allows for personnel to subdivide each with a partition to hold the four teams.
It had its test run with its first soccer match six weeks ago when Alabama-Birmingham played Memphis. The kinks were minimal. The signage that is there now was not there the night of the test match as balls rolled under the bleachers and occasionally into the dugouts. They also had to put a new soccer program into the scoreboard computer.
Now they know what they have to do next year when the men’s finals returns for the 2012 championship.
“It’s a great environment for people to be playing in,” Charlotte head coach Jeremy Gunn said. “Everybody down here has done an amazing job of looking after [the field]. They’ve put on an unbelievable event in a great venue. It’s a good tight surface where the ball moves fairly quickly. This is in mint condition. It’s beautiful.”
Its beauty will be fleeting. But that’s the beauty of a facility as versatile as this one. Change is old hat to this place and that is a good thing when it comes to hosting major events.
“It’s been a lot of hard work, but it wasn’t a big stretch for us to handle it,” Pate said. “Come Monday morning when this is all over with, those bleachers will start to disappear, the grass there will start to disappear and we will start transforming it back into a baseball field. We’ll be ready for the Barons to start batting practice in April.”