Goodbye grass stains and mud-caked cleats, hello traction and rug burns. And not only for football players — for everybody.
That's the hope of Ashland High School coaches and administrators who in the wake of a surprise offer by AHS alum Jeremy Guthrie are looking into the possibility of replacing one of the oldest playing surfaces in the state with state-of-the-art synthetic grass.
Ashland School District director of business services Greg Lecuyer has been busy researching similar projects in an effort to formulate a cost estimate and will present his findings to the school board during its next meeting Dec. 12.
If the project wins approval from the school board the next step will be finding out how much Guthrie, a starting pitcher for the Kansas City Royals, is willing to contribute.
"This is a great opportunity and a tribute to the Ashland School District that one of our alumni wants to give back," Ashland athletic director Karl Kemper said. "He obviously has fond memories of his time in Ashland. He was a valedictorian, a three-sport athlete and a stellar citizen and he has an opportunity to give back and he's very selflessly offering to do that — it's a beautiful thing."
Guthrie, 34, who graduated from Ashland High in 1997, got the ball rolling in August by texting former Ashland High football coach Jim Nagel, who coached Guthrie. The proposal was first brought up to the school board during its October meeting, which preceded a work session that included Kemper, Nagel, Ashland football coach Charlie Hall, boys soccer coach Brad Roupp, superintendent Jay Hummel, principal Michelle Zundel and trainer Max Munson.
According to a press release by Ashland Public Schools, the new field will cost at least $500,000. The school is also looking into the possibility of piggybacking several other projects, including a new set of stadium lights that would limit glare for neighboring homes.
"We're doing some cost estimates to get an idea of the possible scope of the project," Lecuyer said. "We're in the very early stages."
If completed, a synthetic field will get plenty of use at Ashland High. Currently, says Kemper, coaches must be selective about who uses the field and when in order to keep it in good shape for the prep football season.
"We do 10 or 12 events a year there, which is basically varsity, JV and freshmen football, and we really limit use outside of that because the field can't take a lot of wear and tear," Kemper said.
That would all change if AHS upgrades to a synthetic surface, which is much more durable and cheaper to maintain than grass. Besides football games and practices, including Pop Warner, the field could be used for soccer, baseball, band, cheer, PE classes and training.
"Because it's been a football-only field without a track there's an intimacy that we've enjoyed as a football program and selfishly I hate to give that up," Ashland football coach Charlie Hall said, "but on the other hand, it's going to be a great facility that other teams can use. So many more athletes can benefit from a synthetic surface, and not only for competition. "¦ It's a great deal."
But first, added Kemper, the school must consider the long-terms costs. While synthetic fields require far less maintenance than grass they don't last forever. In 10 to 15 years the turf will need to be replaced. That will leave the district with the cost of replacing the field and disposing of the old one.
"My thought is, it's a one-time gift and we have to have a long term plan for maintaining the turf for the future," Kemper said.
Thanks to one of the best athletes to ever walk the halls at AHS, Kemper and company are busy working on a solution.
After graduating from Ashland High, Guthrie originally attended Brigham Young University on a baseball scholarship before heading to Spain for his two-year mission. When he returned in 2000, he transferred to Stanford and greatly improved his draft stock with a monster sophomore campaign, going 13-4 with a 2.82 ERA while leading Stanford to the College World Series. He was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the third round in 2001 but did not sign, opting instead to return for his junior year. That decision proved fruitful the following summer, when Guthrie was snatched by the Cleveland Indians in the first round — No. 22 overall — and, according to The Associated Press, signed a $4 million deal.
Guthrie made his Major League debut for Cleveland in 2004 and took the mound for the Indians 16 times over the next four years — including one start — before being waived. The Baltimore Orioles claimed Guthrie off waivers in January of 2007 and his career took off from there. Signed by the Orioles as a long reliever, the 6-foot-1 right-hander stepped in for injured starter Jaret Wright and ended up earning a place in Baltimore's starting rotation. Guthrie went 7-5 with a 3.70 ERA in 1751/3 innings that summer and has been a Major League starter ever since, tossing 196 innings per season on average for Baltimore, the Colorado Rockies and his current team, the Kansas City Royals.
After a mid-season trade in 2012 Guthrie went 5-3 with a 3.16 ERA in 14 starts for the Royals to earn a huge pay raise. According to The Associated Press, in November of 2012 Guthrie signed a $25 million, three-year deal to return to the Royals.