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The last two weeks may seem to have belonged to soccer, because of the World Cup. However, the traditional national pastime of baseball has not faded despite being relegated to the background.

Thanks to a special development a few miles east of Mauston, baseball has a bright future in Juneau County. After one year of operation, the Woodside Sports Complex has improved the chances of being able to complete a game, which has been something that hasn’t been taken for granted in an area with wildly variable weather.

Security company owner Damon Zumwalt has taken some of the money he has made from companies such as Contemporary Services Corporation and turned 300 acres east of Mauston into several fields of dreams for baseball and softball lovers. The current state of construction at the Mauston Woodside complex has seen what’s estimated to be $40 million poured into eight diamonds.

Sports that long have depended on grass and dirt are played on Woodside’s expanses of smooth, clean, unbroken artificial turf. The fields are designed for quick drainage after one of Wisconsin’s frequent spring rainstorms. In an area where subsurface clay can leave standing water on sports fields, Woodside’s drainage minimizes weather delays — something that Jeff Gray, electrician and backer of Mauston Youth Baseball, enjoys.

“We had only one complete rainout this spring,” Gray said about youth baseball play at Woodside. “Last season, kids were covered head to toe in mud.”

With Woodside’s inviting fields, an increasing number of Mauston youth are participating in spring baseball, up from a couple of dozen to about 100 in the most recent season. While the youth league tries to limit the cost of baseball with a fee of no more than $50 per player, playing on the mud-free artificial surface means player families can avoid the additional cost of baseball’s traditional spiked shoes.

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The growing participation in the youth league will eventually have an impact on the Mauston High School baseball program. Players who started as 9-year-old youth-league players are now ready to enter high school play with valuable time in the youth league — and potentially less to learn as high school freshmen.

A growing number of youth players who are ready for competitive baseball means improved play at the high school level, according to varsity high school baseball coach Chris Lavold.

“It’s going to get kids playing,” Lavold said.

He noted the increased likelihood of being able to play on the fast-draining artificial surface will make baseball more attractive to young players who are pulled toward playing several other sports, including the currently fashionable soccer.

The Golden Eagles will still play most baseball varsity home games on the grass field next to the high school. Most of their game experience will come on grass fields and old-style dirt base paths with their unpredictable bounces that challenge young infielders. They can also kick up clouds of dirt that can nearly conceal sliding base runners. But that’s been part of baseball since Alexander Cartwright allegedly wrote the first rules of baseball in 1845. Only a handful of players in the major and high minor leagues enjoy well-groomed fields. Mauston is just fortunate the Woodside complex allows this area’s players to join that small number who experience that rare privilege.

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