Chapel Hill: Sports

Storm damage forces Orange to take to the road

An ice storm overnight on March 6-7 brought down the 40-feet high backstop netting and adjacent chain link wire fence at Panther Field, also damaging power lines at Orange’s home field.
An ice storm overnight on March 6-7 brought down the 40-feet high backstop netting and adjacent chain link wire fence at Panther Field, also damaging power lines at Orange’s home field.

Dean Dease’s heart sank a bit when he first saw the baseball field at Orange High School the morning after a recent sleet storm swept through Hillsborough.

Dease arrived at the school just minutes after receiving a phone call from Orange agriculture teacher Rusty Waggoner, who had to use a chain saw to carve a path through the fallen trees on the school’s campus, trying to reach the hungry animals kept there.

Waggoner told Dease that “it looks like you’ve got a downed pole hanging on a line.”

Dease gingerly made his way along the icy road leading to the school and up to the stadium at the back edge of the campus.

“When I walked up to the stadium and saw it, I got that sinking feeling you get in your gut,” Dease recalled.

The large net along the backstop, which protects spectators from foul balls, had acted as a perfect collector for the ice that fell on March 6-7. Getting heavier all night, the net finally collapsed, taking down four support poles with it, snapping each of them in two.

The fallen poles and net damaged the backstop and its fence, tore a power meter off the press box and concession stand and caused some other affiliated damage to the field itself.

“I was just in disbelief,” Dease said. “It looked like a bomb had exploded. But it was just Mother Nature.

“It’s like that they say: ‘You don’t mess with Mother Nature.’”

Like almost 250,000 people across the South, the scoreboard at Panther Field was without power, as was the public address system, the concession stand and bathrooms.

The Panthers can still use the field for practice, but they can’t play any games at home. In addition to the logistical problems caused by the power loss, they can’t get insurance coverage for activities there until repairs are done.

“We’ve had three contractors come out here, but we haven’t gotten any estimates yet,” Dease said. Until those come in, Orange can’t even begin the repair process.

Orange has been on the road since the ice storm, and is still scrambling to schedule home games at other fields. Some games have been lost in the shuffle.

And Orange can’t host any games in the upcoming Hilltop Invitational Tournament, which it has every year since the event was founded 15 years ago. (Durham’s Jordan High School will host the HIT games originally scheduled for Orange.)

Finding a field in midseason is a bit like trying to call a restaurant at 9 p.m. Saturday night for dinner reservations. Dease has tried Chapel Hill High School, East Chapel Hill, Duke University, the University of North Carolina, the historic Durham Athletics Park and the newer Durham Bulls Athletics Park, even the USA Baseball Complex in Cary. All are in high demand. N.C. Central and some Durham-area high schools booked up most of the DAP’s dates, and the DBAP is undergoing renovations needed for the start of the Bulls’ season.

Orange’s crucial conference game Tuesday against Cardinal Gibbons was scheduled to be played at 7p.m. at Chapel Hill High School. And Dease was able to schedule a “home” game against Northern Vance for the USA Baseball site. The Panthers will be back in Cary on April 14 to host a visit by Cincinnati (Ohio) Moeller, but even that state-of-the-art site leaves players wanting something more.

“Baseball is baseball. The game doesn’t change,” he said. “But there’s a comfort level playing on your home field, in front of your home fans.”