195 LINKEDIN 1 COMMENTMORE

The sun beamed, and the temperature approached 60 degrees. There were about 500 fans in attendance.

Wednesday was the debut of the all-turf field at Duane Banks Field for the Iowa baseball team, but this wasn't for a Big Ten series in April or May. This was March 11 – estimated as the earliest home game in program history.

Iowa (10-2) defeated AIB 7-1. The Hawkeyes used nine pitchers and 21 players overall against the NAIA school from Des Moines.

"I thought it was a good day," Iowa coach Rick Heller said. "We got everything out of it that we needed to."

Leading 3-0 heading into the fourth inning, Kris Goodman stepped to the plate and put the score out of reach for AIB. Goodman lined a triple into right center field, clearing the bases and staking out a 6-0 advantage.

If anything, it was a boost to somewhat of a sluggish Iowa offense early in the season. While the pitching has been the headliner – the Hawkeyes entered Wednesday's action with a 1.30 team ERA, which ranks first in the Big Ten and second in the nation – the offense was hitting at a .247 clip.

"Right now we haven't burst open with offense, but our pitchers have definitely been there," Goodman said. "It helps to crack it open early in the game."

But the field plus the weather stole the show Wednesday.

Not even one month into the season, it is almost unheard of for a Big Ten school to play a home game this time of year. The now all-turf field makes a game possible. So Heller scheduled the matchup, and sure enough, the game was played.

Duane Banks, Iowa's all-time winningest baseball coach, attended Wednesday's contest and was thrilled. Banks was at the helm of the Black and Gold from 1970-97.

"It's a beautiful field. Such an advantage," Banks said. "We didn't try to play at home until at least the first weekend in April, and we usually didn't go south until spring break. Everything is moved forward so much now playing the third Friday in February. We never did."

And the effect of the field has paid dividends not just this week as spring moves into the Iowa City area.

There could be home games in the early portion of the schedule moving forward, too.

"Having the turf is fantastic," Heller said. "I can't tell you enough. We practiced outside six times in January. I've been doing this 31 years, and we were outside one time in my career before (this year).

"The schedule is usually done two years out, so we'll see what happens the next two years. If it's fairly consistent in the 40s and 50s, we can start scheduling games this time of the season."

Iowa travels to Houston Baptist for a four-game series this weekend followed by three games at Kansas.

Sitting at first place in the Big Ten, those seven games are still a tall task, but also a chance for Heller's club to continue to build their winning percentage during the nonconference slate.

"We know if we show up and we're ready to play our kind of baseball," Goodman said, "we can compete with anyone."

Reach Matt Cozzi at mcozzi@press-citizen.com or 319-887-5409, and follow him on Twitter at @matt_cozzi.

195 LINKEDIN 1 COMMENTMORE