How the Salukis’ mound is mended

By Ted Ward, @TedWard_DE

At every baseball game, a pitcher will step onto a round dirt hill to throw a tiny sphere at the leather glove of the catcher. 

That dirt hill takes some abuse every game and SIU baseball pitchers have to fix the problems on Abe Martin Field at Itchy Jones Stadium. 

The Salukis don’t have a grounds crew to take care of the field and, with the surface at Itchy Jones Stadium being mostly artificial turf, there isn’t much dirt to maintain apart from the pitcher’s mound on the field and in the bullpens. 

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Freshman pitcher Seth Hackett described the process as necessary yard work. 

“First we go in and rake out all the dirt clods and even it out. Then we take bags of mound clay and pour that in to fill in any holes and rake it to keep the shape of the hill,” he said. “Next we’ll take a tamp, which we use to compact the dirt, and finally we water it down and leave it to dry.” 

The process to getting the mound ready takes about 10 to 15 minutes and has a crew of five players at each bump.

Pitching coach P.J. Finigan said the coaches assign jobs to certain players before games and they must be done prior to a student-athlete leaving.

“Guys will usually tell us what they’d like to do and Shimmy [Anthony Shimkus] is one of those guys who says, ‘Hey I want to be on mound duty,'” Finigan said. “He’s been on it since his freshman year and he enjoys doing it. These guys take great pride in the ability to do it themselves and they do an excellent job with it to get it game ready. While they’re doing that, our position players will remove the batting practice cage.” 

Finigan said while having the mound in good shape is important, it can be tough to keep it in pristine condition for relief pitchers. 

Shimkus, a junior pitcher, said keeping the mound fresh before games makes life easier for pitchers.

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“It’s important that the mound stays in good condition because it can be really tough to throw off of if you’re stepping in holes and uneven dirt,” Shimkus said. 

The mound crew’s contributions maintaining the mound may seem small, but it’s allowed Saluki pitchers to focus on games instead of what their foot will land in. 

This season, their Missouri Valley Conference-leading 3.42 ERA is a big reason why the team has surpassed its win total from 2015. 

“It’s a great responsibility for these guys to have and they’ve been more than willing to stay after to fix it,” Finigan said. “It looks like a complex job, but those guys make it look really easy.”

Ted Ward can be reached at [email protected] or 618-534-3303

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