By Rich Myhre Herald Writer
Just months after the University of Washington football team opened a renovated Husky Stadium, the UW baseball team will do the same this spring with a stylish new Husky Ballpark.
The reconstructed stadium, with an outer brick structure that is similar to the facade at Husky Stadium, is a significant improvement from the wooden bleachers and portable toilets of its predecessor.
“It’s a huge upgrade and it looks great,” said senior outfielder and first baseman Brian Wolfe, a 2009 graduate of Snohomish High School. “It’s going to be an awesome place to come watch a game. I can’t think of another ballpark as cool to watch a game in terms of the view (of Lake Washington and the Cascade Mountains) and the stadium itself, which is beautiful.”
“It’s top-notch,” agreed junior third baseman Alex Schmidt, a 2011 graduate of Mukilteo’s Kamiak High School. “(The old stadium) was kind of sub-par, but now with the new stadium … I might be biased toward my own school, but I think it’s going to be one of the best. It looks really good.”
The reconstruction project cost $19 million, with about $4 million coming from donors and the rest from athletic department funds. The most visible change is the new grandstand, which includes restrooms, concession areas, luxury suites, a press box, and theater seats that extend from home plate to roughly first base and third base. The playing surface will be FieldTurf including the base paths, though there will be a dirt pitching mound. There will also be a new scoreboard.
Capacity will be around 2,400 with an additional area for spectator seating on a grass berm down the left field foul line.
When Scott Woodward became Washington’s athletic director in 2008, “we arguably had the worst facility in Division 1 baseball,” he said. “So in order to be fair and amenable to our program, and to allow them to compete at the highest level, we had to get a stadium that was commensurate with those goals.
“I think that’s what we’ve accomplished. I think we’ve done a good job of building a first-rate baseball stadium and I couldn’t be more pleased.”
Washington began its 2014 schedule in mid-January (the team is 3-4-1, including at 3-2 loss to Oregon State on Monday) and will play its first four home games at Tacoma’s Cheney Stadium this weekend, weather permitting. The Huskies will then head to California and Arizona for seven more games, return to play one more game in Tacoma, and then open the new ballpark vs. Arizona on March 21.
As much as fans should appreciate the new stadium amenities, the coaches and players will benefit from a nearby team building that houses a new locker room, training room and coaches’ offices, and an adjacent player development center that has batting cages that can be rolled back for infield practice.
“For us this is a game changer,” said UW head coach Lindsay Meggs, who is beginning his fifth UW season. “(The new stadium and other facilities) make the definitive statement that we’re committed to getting this program to the College World Series.”
The Huskies had just one winning season in Meggs’ first four years (they were 30-25 in 2012), and the team has not been to the NCAA Tournament since 2004. A year ago Washington was beset by injuries and won just nine of its first 34 games, but rallied to finish 24-32, including a 15-15 mark in the Pacific-12 Conference.
Meggs expects the new stadium will help bring a program resurgence, beginning with recruiting.
“It should take us to another level with who we’re able to recruit and how successful we’ll be on the recruiting trail,” he said. “It’s going to allow us not only to do a better job of keeping the best players in Washington at home, but also recruiting all the talented kids in the Northwest and then nationally with kids who might not have otherwise considered coming to a colder climate.
“When (recruits) see this facility, I think they’ll realize that if they come to the University of Washington, they’re going to compete for a championship, they’re going to get a great education, and they’ll have a chance to play pro baseball.”
There are college baseball programs in the South and Midwest that have larger stadiums than the new Husky Ballpark, Meggs went on. “But in terms of the people we compete with day in and day out, recruiting-wise and on the schedule, this is up there with anything on the West Coast.
“And that’s really our goal,” he said. “To build a facility that says there’s nobody on the West Coast that can offer you more in terms of player development, and in an environment that to me is as unique as it gets.”