Baseball stadium plans strike out

By The Beacon | March 20, 2013 9:00pm

Joe Etzel Field will be retrofitted and remodeled instead of having a new stadium built because of lack of funding

UP baseball’s stadium, Joe Etzel Field, will remain the home of Pilots Baseball for the foreseeable future following lack of funding to build a new stadium on the planned River Campus. Built in 1988, Joe Etzel Field will be retrofitted and remodeled with new lights, turf and stands. (Stephanie Matusiefsky | THE BEACON )

By Taylor Tobin, Staff Writer

Despite enthusiasm from the UP baseball team, fans and the administration, plans for a new baseball stadium on the River Campus have been canceled. Instead, the current baseball field, Joe Etzel Field, will be retrofitted. Cost was a big factor, according to Assistant Director of Media Relations Joe Kuffner.

New road access, parking options, locker rooms, and others facilities would have had to be built to make the River Campus plan successful. These additions would drive up the cost of the project.

"The priority right now is to try and get a rec center built," Kuffner said. "There is only so much money you can raise."

In addition to cost, time constraints influenced the decision to change plans for the stadium.

"Timing played a big role in the decision. A new River Campus baseball field would have to have been completed in something like six months in order to have it ready for play the following season," Kuffner said. "It would have been too difficult to play a season without a home field. That would have put huge pressure on the construction timeline and been very difficult for our baseball program."

Head Coach Chris Sperry was not initially excited about the decision to toss the plan for new field, but he is hopeful for the new vision of their current field.

"The vision that was created for us down below was awfully powerful, and that was exciting to think about," Sperry said. "But [our current field] is a place that I grew up and I played on. My hope is that we create a new vision that is spectacular in its own way."

Sperry was worried about a lack of student attendance at games if the field was moved to the River Campus, because it would be far from the other athletic venues.

"Logistically it's problematic down there. It's a half mile from our existing field and it will be a couple years before anything else gets done down there, so there [wouldn't] be a lot of traffic," Sperry said. "When those lights [came] on at game time there wouldn't be any students walking by down on the river."

Retrofitting the field will be a multi-million dollar project, but it is still cheaper than the River Campus field project would have been. The plan includes a new turf field, stands, lights and smaller upgrades to be announced in the future.

"The University is committed to being a good economic steward of the resources it has, and the current plan meets the needs of the baseball team and the student community while also being the most cost-efficient option," Kuffner said. "[The baseball program is] actively working on raising funds. They've been doing a lot of fundraising for their program for a long time, so they have good relationships with people."

Sperry is hopeful the new plan will fit the baseball program's needs and make their field an important place on campus.

"I'm sure there are [players] that are disappointed, but my goal is that for our players and future players, it will be a facility that has a 'wow' factor to it, meets our playing and practice needs and becomes a special part of our campus," Sperry said.