Back in 1940, the Works Progress Administration built Fraser Field as a baseball diamond for Lynn kids who played high school ball. Few could envision that in the coming decades it would host the likes of future hall of famers Ted Williams and Roy Campanella, and Lynn teens — including Harry Agganis, Tony Conigiliaro, and Ken Hill — who would go on to the big leagues.
Last week, Lynn announced that it will spend $300,000 on new artificial turf at Fraser — a move that will shore up the stadium’s infrastructure, cut maintenance costs, and allow for fewer rain-canceled games.
“The turf will reduce costs, maximize the field’s use, and bolster Fraser’s reputation as a first-class venue for people from Lynn and all over the North Shore to come and enjoy an affordable day out at the ballpark,” said Lynn Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy.
James Marsh, Lynn’s director of community development, said the planned improvements are part of a larger plan to boost the city’s economy.
“The turf will add life to Fraser, make it even more attractive to both spectators and players, reduce maintenance costs, and, most important to me, bring more people to the facility and Lynn,” Marsh said.
The concrete stadium, with about 3,800 seats, is used exclusively for baseball by Lynn’s five high school teams and Fisher College’s baseball squad in the spring.
In the summer, it is the home of the North Shore Navigators — a team made up of college prospects.
The project calls for replacing the entire infield —including the dirt between bases and around the batter’s box — with synthetic turf.
The turf installation is planned for this fall, and will take three months to complete, said John Kasian, Fraser’s facility manager.
He said a new synthetic infield is necessary, and will allow players to have better footing during slick conditions and drastically reduce the costs to groom the field.
“With the exception of torrential rain and lightning, you’re going to always play – which is huge from a maintenance perspective,” said Kasian.
In recent years, several other communities north of Boston have installed synthetic turf. The carpet-like surfaces are now on playing fields in Burlington, Manchester, Melrose, North Reading, and Reading. Artificial turf fields are also planned for Gloucester and Marblehead.
The project marks the first major renovation of the field since a decade ago, when the North Shore Spirit — a former minor league team that made Fraser its home from 2003 to 2007 — invested $2 million in the stands, and in a synthetic infield.
The project also comes five years after the city spent $12 million to raze the former Manning Bowl, and rebuild the stadium now known as Manning Field.
With its lights, outfield fences, and professional dugouts, Fraser Field is one of the jewels of the North Shore, said Joe Caponigro, head coach at Lynn English High School.
“It’s got a minor league-field feel to it,” said Caponigro, who said the planned renovation would cut down on rainouts and “fieldouts” – or cancellation of games when the field is too wet to play.
“I think that the high school coaches will be happy because we won’t get backed up with as many postponements,” said Caponigro.
Sandwiched between neighborhoods filled with two- and three-decker homes, the field has been alternately pampered, left in disrepair, and restored over the decades. Still, it has been a magnet for important moments.
After the park opened in 1940, Negro League legend and Hall of Fame member Josh Gibson hit a 500-foot home run at Fraser; in 1946, Campanella hit his first minor league home run at the field; Williams and Johnny Pesky played exhibition games for the Red Sox at Fraser in the 1940s.
Another member of the Hall of Fame, Jimmie Foxx, played his last exhibition game at Fraser against a team that included Lynn’s Agganis.
Kasian believes the new turf will hold up for at least another decade, a move that will preserve its reputation as one of the better high school fields in New England.
“It’s clearly one of the premier fields around, and by doing this we pretty much won’t have any rival in the area,” he said.