Monday, January 14, 2019

Play Ball!: Building a Baseball Stadium on Campus

Have you ever gotten a chance to take in a Division I baseball game at the University’s Baseball Stadium?  Beyond the enjoyment of watching highly skilled ballplayers compete, the facility itself offers attendees the experience of unobstructed views of the field, elegant metal entrance gates, comfortable seating, and a brick-relief sculpture.  The building’s architectural features convey the impression that the stadium has been part of the campus landscape for decades.  You might be surprised to learn that the Baseball Stadium opened in 1999.  How did this gem of a sports complex come to be built at the center of campus?

UNCG Baseball Stadium Seats
In 1990, UNCG began a Division I baseball program.  The University sought to raise the profile of its Athletics Department as well as expand its program offerings.  The team joined the Big South conference.  At its launch, the UNCG baseball program did not have a permanent home field.  The team found itself playing at both the War Memorial Stadium in Greensboro and the Burlington Athletic Park.  The team had to share these facilities with other sports teams and programs.   By 1994, the baseball team had gained local, regional, national recognition and success.  UNCG Director of Athletics Nelson Bobb declared that “the commitment to build a baseball stadium and the need for such a facility on campus are very real for us at UNCG.” 

In June 1994, the Board of Trustees of the University approved a request to select an architecture firm to do preliminary design work for a new on-campus stadium.  The firm of Hayes, Seay, Mattern and Mattern of Greensboro was awarded the contract.  The proposed complex would have permanent seating for 800 spectators.  The Board of Trustees approved the proposal to locate the stadium at the southeast corner of the intersection of Walker Avenue and Aycock Street.  UNCG owned most of the land and planned to clear the existing buildings to make way for the stadium. 

Recognizing the need to meet the standards of Division I baseball, Athletic Director Nelson Bobb declared that “our intent is to build a facility with state-of-the art field and lighting.”  The estimated cost to build the stadium was $3 million dollars.  The University intended to seek monies from the North Carolina General Assembly to fund the project.  The hope was to open the stadium by 1997.

At the time of the Board of Trustees vote in 1994, there was no universal campus and community support for the building of a baseball stadium.  Indeed, some opponents of the project argued that the University’s priorities were misplaced, since it was spending monies on athletics and not on academic programs.  Other critics felt that there was no pressing need to build a new facility, since the UNCG baseball team could continue to play at the War Memorial Stadium.  By 1996, the cost of the proposed stadium increased to $3.7 million dollars.  The University’s request for funds from the General Assembly was not met.  To jump-start the project, the University’s Board of Trustees approved a 7.3 % increase in student fees for the 1996-1997 school year to help play for the new facility.  Opposition to the fee hike centered around the use of student fees to fund the building project.  In the local Greensboro newspaper, News and Record, the papers’ editorial board posed the question “Why make students pay for a stadium?” 

To counter this opposition to the building plan, supporters of the baseball stadium argued that the University had previously funded other building projects (like the soccer stadium) through student fees.  Another key point raised by supporters was that the current arrangement of having the UNCG baseball team play at the War Memorial Stadium was not a viable long-term option.  They noted that the 70-year-old stadium needed significant renovations.  They also pointed out that the UNCG team shared the facility with a professional Single A baseball team.  This shared arrangement made it very difficult for UNCG to schedule practices and games.  Finally, supporters argued that the athletic program at the University was intended to enhance student life as well as assist with student recruitment.  Thus, it made sense to build a facility on campus to ensure that students had easy access to games. 

View of the Baseball Stadium from the Grass Berm
After a lengthy period of debate, the school decided to move forward with the baseball stadium project.  The 13-acre site was cleared of existing residential buildings.  As plans were further refined, the price tag rose to $5.4 million dollars.  The final design team was a collaboration between Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum, Inc. (Kansas City) and the local firm of Hayes, Seay, Mattern and Mattern.  The planned stadium would include a state-of-the-art baseball field, a press box, an office/ticket booth/concession building, public restrooms, and a grounds maintenance building. The stadium plan included 889 fixed fold-down seats and grass berms down both baselines to provide additional space for seating.  The project would also include stadium lighting for night games, Major League-sized dugouts, a scoreboard, and a public-address system.  The design also reserved space for a future field house that would include locker rooms, training facilities, and office space. These additional facilities would eventually be built.  Besides the installation of a baseball stadium on the 13-site, the University also planned to build a golf practice facility and a student recreation field.

Baseball Dugout and Benches
The University also asked the designers to incorporate architectural features (like the prominent use of red brick) to match other surrounding University buildings.  Additionally, the two steel entrance gates to the stadium were created by local sculptor Jim Gallucci.  The gates were titled “Play Ball.”  At the back of the press box, there was a brick relief sculpture entitled “Play at the Plate” that was created by UNCG alum Brad Spencer. 

On February 12, 1999, Chancellor Patricia Sullivan throw out the ceremonial first pitch to mark the opening of the baseball stadium.  Wearing a Spartan baseball jersey, the Chancellor threw the pitch to catcher Michael Krekorian.  The Chancellor admitted that she had practiced before the inaugural day.  Sullivan stated that the Spartan baseball manager “told me to try and throw it over (the catcher’s) head.”  Coach Graski noted that the Chancellor “worked hard and wanted to understand the fundamentals.”  Sullivan greeted the large crowd of 1,853 attendees and declared that “this is a gorgeous facility.”

Overview of the Stands and Playing Field

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