'St Ambrose athletes love winters in the Dome'
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Growing up in North Hollywood, Calif., Jake Fields never gave much thought to fielding ground balls in Iowa in January.
In the midst of his first Midwest winter, however, the St. Ambrose Fighting Bees junior second baseman knows something special is happening inside the Ambrose Dome.
"We can do pretty much everything in there," Fields said of the 67,000 square foot, air-supported, field-turf covered "bubble" that is proving to be a special advantage for sports programs at St. Ambrose. "It definitely is helping prepare us for our season."
The university purchased the once public facility on Davenport's Brady Street in the spring of 2011 and Fighting Bees athletic squads have been keeping it busy this winter.
Coach Dan Tomlin's track and field squads hosted the school's first-ever indoor meet there in January, a three-team, field-events-only session.
Softball coach Ron Ferrill's Queen Bees will be among six teams competing in the first SAU in the Snow Softball Tournament inside the Dome on Feb. 25-26.
The baseball, track and softball squads, meanwhile, have been practicing there almost daily since the start of the second semester and the Ambrose men's and women's golf teams have booked the Dome to hit golf shots a few times themselves. As their seasons draw closer, the golfers will call the Dome home much more often. A putting and chipping green is going to be installed this month, with swing-analysis equipment set up nearby.
Baseball coach Jim Callahan called the Ambrose Dome "the most significant improvement" for outdoor athletics in his 20 years at the school. Football coach Mike Magistrelli said his gridders actually asked to have all of their practices in the bubble last fall. The Bees coaching staff obliged, too, running practices there most Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays before doing an outdoor walk-through on Fridays.
"The kids know you are always going to get a good surface in here," Magistrelli said of facility that is large enough to practice kicking, punting and special teams on a field that is 70 yards wide and 80 yards long. "There are no worries about weather conditions. It is just a great environment to practice in.''
It also is a valuable recruiting tool for St. Ambrose athletics, Magistrelli said, noting the Ambrose Dome is the only such facility small-college athletes can find in Iowa.
"It is very rare," he said. "Iowa and Iowa State would be two and Northern Iowa has the UNIDome. To have a facility like this, we are very, very fortunate and one of the very few."
Fields, who transferred from a Santa Barbara, Calif. , junior college, said the Dome got his attention as a recruit.
"It is pretty state of the art," he said. "It was definitely an intriguing part of the whole situation."
Freshman softball player Leah Smith, an All-State infielder/outfielder from Marion, Iowa, was more familiar with Midwest winters than Fields. She said knowing she and her teammates would be getting full workouts between their fall and spring seasons helped her decision to opt for Ambrose as well.
"That was a big deal for me," she said of the Ambrose Dome. "It's really nice."