by Dan McClelland
When the Empire League's River Pigs arrive next summer to face their opponents they'll be playing on an infield freshly sodded.
That happened Thursday when a work crew from the state's Moriah Shock Incarceration Camp laid 22,500 square feet of sod that arrived by tractor trailer early Thursday from the company, Saratoga Sod.
The sod work follows the reshaping and raising of the infield with tons of black dirt provided and spread by Kentile Excavating in recent weeks, according to Trustee David “Haji” Maroun, who chairs the local Empire League committee.
The sod firm is also the place where the Tupper Lake Youth Baseball and Softball Association found its supply of natural green carpet for its project that wrapped up this summer.
The company lends to its customers a piece of apparatus that attaches to the back of a tractor to carry the large rolls of sod.
The sod cost the village $8,346 and is part of about $30,000 the board committed to in past months to fund a portion of the major improvements eyed for the local recreational asset.
The sod covered the entire infield and in front of the recently uncovered dug outs, Mr. Maroun explained. The labor, of course, was all free to the village, courtesy of the state prison system.
The plan, Haji said Thursday, was to start construction this week on the new roofs for the old dug-outs, which were filled with sand many years ago and capped. The excavation of the team areas was done in recent weeks.
New pumps were also installed in each dug-out, in the event rain or ground water seeps in.
Trustee Maroun said work will also be started soon on twin decks- each 16 feet by 63 feet- that will replace the old and deteriorated bleacher seating on the west side of the grandstand.
The top deck will be three steps up from the bottom one, he estimated.
The bottom deck will be handicapped accessible and at the eastern portion of the new spectator complex will eventually be concessions for drinks and food. Village plans for the rebuilt baseball field may eventually bring beer sales there for spectators to enjoy.
Beyond the newly sodded infield are the base paths and sections of the immediate outfield, which will both be dressed in a clay-type material before next summer.
“It'll be just like the pros and our new Little League field,” Trustee Maroun told the Free Press. “Years ago we wanted to do this, but just never got to it!”
He said they plan to use what is called “diamond point” clay, which isn't prone to blowing away as regular clay is.
As the sod rolled off the back of the tractor, the work crew from Moriah tugged and pulled into place with rakes.
Working alongside the inmates were committee members Jay and Rick Skiff- Jay driving the tractor and Rick unrolling the greenery. Jed Dukett and Royce Cole were also helping out.
The money allocated by the village so far covered the sod and about $4,000 in earth work and the committee is hard at work raising private donations for their field restoration. See related story this week.
The dozen or so inmates returned Friday to tackle other projects in the park.
The Moriah Shock crew is one of only crews in the state prison system that are out working in the communities of the North Country. For years there was a work crew from Adirondack Correctional Facilily in Ray Brook which worked in tri-lakes communities, and Sunmount DDSO in particular here.
Camp Gabriels also had a work crew before that minimum security prison was closed by the state several years ago.
Veteran Correctional Officer Larry Perry was one of the supervisors at Thursday's detail.
He said in their para military-style facility there are currently 165 inmates, including that day's crew of about one dozen. “We require military bearing from every inmate!”
All inmates address everyone as “yes sir, no sir” and are very polite.
“All these guys were hand-picked and they are a good crew,” Officer Perry said that day.
He called over Inmate Jones. “What's your crime, son?”
“Possession of a controlled substance...crack cocaine, sir!”
“What's your sentence, Mr. Jones?” asked Mr. Perry.
“Two years...six months at Moriah, sir.”
“Where's home Mr. Jones?” Mr. Maroun asked him.
“Manhattan, sir,” replied the young, black inmate.
“They love doing this,” Officer Perry told the Free Press. The men worked steady arranging the rolls of sod that day.
He said their 12-man crews go everywhere in the North Country, but rarely this far west.
This crew has worked recently in Cumberland Head, in Ausable Forks, at the Albany training academy, Lake Placid, Lake Clear sawmill. “Every year we go to Eastfield stadium, home of the Dragons, in Glens Falls. We flip their bleachers, paint them, anything they need!”
The correctional officer said he trained Trustee Maroun at Great Meadow when he entered the correctional service and they served together for a time at Comstock. They've remained friends over the years.
Helping to get the Moriah crew here too was the influence of Captain Jay Skiff and Lieutenant Rick Skiff.
“People don't realize all that we do at Moriah for our communities.”
“Every day we tackle a new project,” he said.
Thursday's detail was under the direction of a hometown boy, Sgt. Blake North. Blake also pushed hard with his superior to get his crew here.
Blake's brother is Buck, a long time organizer of the Tupper Lake Woodsmen's Association and they come from a long line of loggers here.
The younger North now lives in Jay.
“Blake put this whole thing together for you guys,” Officer Perry said. “He deserves all the credit!”
Sgt. North said his work crew are regularly at Adirondack, where it takes care of all the outside work. That facility no longer has a work crew, with its new juvenile population. “Some times,” he said, “we're there three days a week.”
He said his ties to Tupper Lake and the ties of the corrections officers who serve on the Empire League committee, helped influence his supervisor to authorize the detail in Tupper Lake, which is a little outside the crew's regular assignments.
Sgt. North said his facility sometimes runs eight or nine work crews at day, with up to 12 inmates on each. So the facility is making a big impact on community service and public projects all across the region.
It also gives young inmates a chance to learn real life skills.
“These guys are up every morning at 5:30a.m. for physical education and then it's work all day,” the officer said.
“We're big believers in this para military program,” stated Officer Perry.
He noted many of these young inmates, before they come to Moriah, had few marketable skills.
“From the day they step off the bus in Moriah to the day they leave after six months, you wouldn't believe the difference in them,” commented the sergeant. “Our program is working!”
Both he and Officer Perry said they want every inmate to succeed in their work program so they don't return to prison after their release.
“If they mess up with us, those inmates are assigned elsewhere in the state prison system to finish their sentences,” Sgt. North explained. Life is a lot tougher for them there, he noted.
“Moriah is where the staff members care about these guys. We want them to succeed and not come back!” Larry Perry added.