Major facility upgrades coincide with Topsail baseball success

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Just three years into his tenure as head coach of the Topsail baseball team, not only has Granville Gehris helped bring the program its first-ever state championship, but the skipper in Hampstead – thanks to generous support from the community – has helped spearhead major facility improvements to coincide with the ball club’s success.

The Topsail baseball complex has undergone major renovations over the past three years. Photo courtesy- Chuck Riker.
The Topsail baseball complex has undergone major renovations over the past three years. Photo courtesy Chuck Riker.

With a Mideastern Conference regular season championship under the belt this season as the top ranked 3A team in the state, to go along with a national ranking from Maxpreps.com, with six players already committed to play ball in college, the Pirates have situated themselves among one of the premier high school baseball programs.   

After arriving at Topsail in November 2012, Gehris immediately inquired into the program’s budget, county funding and sought community support.

“We knew that when we came in there were certain things we wanted to do,” Gehris said. “One of the first things was to create our Dugout Club, basically a booster club for the team. We don’t get the funding from the county level for athletics, so we have to fund raise.”

With the help of several dedicated staff members and parents, Gerhis created the Topsail Baseball Dugout Club soon after with the idea of a sign with advertisements, which is located at the entrance to the ballpark.

New synthetic turf outlines the area around home plate and in front of the mound. Photos by Joe Catenacci
New synthetic turf outlines the area around home plate and in front of the mound. Photos by Joe Catenacci.

After garnering support from area businesses to help support their needs, with the companies’ names listed along the Dugout Club facade, it was time to get working on improvements to the field and its surrounding area.

As 2012 progressed, the Topsail baseball and softball teams set up a golf tournament fundraiser to pay for a mason to finish concrete work and construct a 3-foot high brick backstop. The brick was donated by General Shale Brick, while parents helped install poles, while the baseball program purchased netting from a company based in Florida.

Additional upgrades to the outside of the ballpark included $5,000 for the construction and artwork for the dugout club sign. Gehris also had custom lockers built (36 in all) and sprayed custom epoxy with gold flakes for the locker room floor.

The new scoreboard in right-center and batters eye behind the center field wall are recent additions to the ballpark.
The new scoreboard in right-center and batters eye behind the center field wall are recent additions to the ballpark.

Inside the playing field, the Pirates enclosed their bullpen with a wooden fence, re-sodded the base paths, added 20 tons of material to the infield, 20 tons of material to the warning track, and re-did the infield cutouts.

“We’ve been very fortunate to have all the support from the community,” said Gehris. “It’s helped us do a number of things from building a locker room to ongoing field renovations and we continue to make improvements to make our facilities top notch. Everyone has a role on the team and with the maintenance of our field.”

While assistant coaches Chris Blake and Scott Cota work on the playing surface by watering the playing surface daily and dragging the dirt, it’s the players who have stepped up in a big way by raking around each of the bases and contributing to the overall look of the ballpark.

The annual golf tournament continued to serve as a big money raiser in 2013-14 as nearly $60,000 has been raised in all, which gave the Topsail baseball program enough funds to install a turf halo around home plate, turfed walkways and turfed coaches’ boxes.

The brick backstop was one of the first new additions, while the press box is nearly complete.
The brick backstop was one of the first new additions, while the press box is nearly complete.

New metal roofs were put on the dugouts and the team had two new benches and bat boxes built for the home dugout. In addition to the improvements inside the dugout, the program purchased two infield tarps, built wooden fence enclosures for the tarps, added a new shed for storage and secured two more bleachers for seating.

One of the most recognizable features to the Topsail baseball stadium is the nine-inning scoreboard, which was funded largely by Highway 55, according to Gehris.

Just this past year, money raised helped purchase a new batting turtle, which covers the home plate area during batting practice, bases and 20 dozen batting practice balls. Both fences down each of the foul lines are now brick walls to match the brick behind the backstop, with netting above. General Shale donated the brick, but the baseball program paid for labor.

The state championship signs were made for the outfield fence and 25 yards of mulch and plants were donated by the Dugout Club to beautify the entrance.

The old backstop at Topsail.
The old backstop at Topsail.

“In this time we also fundraised for five new varsity uniform tops and one new junior varsity top,” said Gehris. “Having great facilities is a big part of what we do. We want our kids, our school, and our community to take pride in what we have built. It is our goal to continue to add new features (like a turfed bullpen, concrete walkways, and professional seating) as time progresses. Pride and ownership in facility, pride and ownership in the strength and conditioning, and pride and ownership in fundamentals have enabled us to get guys better and placed beyond Topsail.

“We plan to continue to produce college- and professional-ready players through our program.”

Among some of the ongoing renovations to its facilities are doubling the size of the press box, laying turf down in the home plate area of the bullpen, in addition to the last two renovation plans for the season: cover the batting cages and building a practice infield.

The old outfield at Topsail.
The old outfield at Topsail.

“I have to give special thanks and appreciation to Kathry Hazel for her support of Topsail baseball and softball, Highway 55, General Shale Brick, and all the wonderful friends and family of Topsail baseball that have sponsored and donated to our cause,” said Gehris.