Aug. 25, 2009
By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Fall practice starts in about two weeks for the UVa baseball team. Before fall ball ends, the sounds of construction may make it difficult at times for players and coaches to concentrate at Davenport Field.
They won’t mind at all.
In mid-October, an enhancement project is scheduled to begin at Davenport, home of the reigning ACC champion Cavaliers. The work, funded entirely by private donations, will cost about $4.5 million. And when it’s completed – no later than early April, if all goes as planned – the 3,600-seat stadium will be one of the jewels of college baseball.
With memories of Virginia’s first trip to the College World Series still fresh, interest in and enthusiasm for coach Brian O’Connor‘s program never has been higher. The project is testament to that.
“I believe it sends a message to college baseball and recruits that the University of Virginia is very serious about its baseball program winning championships, to make this kind of investment moving forward,” O’Connor said.
“The timing of it couldn’t be more perfect. It’s all kind of coming together.”
Davenport has served the Cavaliers exceedingly well for most of this decade. Before the 2002 season, a $5 million renovation transformed a tired, old stadium into one of the ACC’s better ballparks, and that home-field advantage has helped UVa win 265 games in six seasons under O’Connor.
Even so, Davenport lacks some important elements that the enhancement project will provide.
|Improvements to Davenport|
The additions will fit into the stadium’s current footprint. They include: a locker room for the visiting team, a locker room for the umpires, a weight room, a hall of fame room to honor former UVa teams and players, a team meeting room, a training room, a meeting room for the coaches, a film room, storage areas for equipment, a kitchen, an expanded clubhouse for the team, and a climate-controlled indoor hitting and pitching facility.
“I feel like everything together is going to really help the player development,” senior catcher Franco Valdes said.
Fund-raising for the project, which began about a year ago, gained more momentum as the 2009 season progressed. After the Cavaliers made a stunning run in Durham, N.C., to capture the ACC tournament, they were shipped to Irvine, Calif., for the opening weekend of the NCAA tourney.
On the West Coast, Virginia did the unthinkable — beat San Diego State phenom Stephen Strasburg — and went on to win the regional. Then the ‘Hoos headed to Oxford, Miss., for a best-of-three super regional with Ole Miss.
Before that series started, former UVa star Ryan Zimmerman pledged $250,000 to the Davenport project. More donors stepped forward after UVa prevailed in Oxford to advance to the CWS for the first time in school history.
“The baseball alumni, they’re very excited,” O’Connor said. “They are definitely a big part of this in giving back. Obviously, Zimmerman’s lead gift was one of the them, but there’s other former players that have given, too. Really, former players that played here 25 years ago. But it’s also people in the community and supporters of our program.”
To O’Connor, the importance of the project is two-fold. First, he said, it helps with player development. Virtually all of the team’s baseball-related activities will be conducted at Davenport, which will make more efficient use of the players’ time. The enhancements also will allow UVa to match what other top baseball programs can offer recruits.
The players currently lift weights at the McCue Center, and there “are certain things from a training-room standpoint that we can’t do now up at Davenport that we will be able to do after the completion of the project,” O’Connor said.
The Cavaliers’ skipper is especially excited about the indoor hitting and pitching facility, which will allow his players to train comfortably year-round.
Perhaps more important than improved working conditions for players, though, is this: The renovations will improve UVa’s chances of being selected to host NCAA regionals and super regionals.
“In the past,” O’Connor said, “not having a visiting team restroom, an umpires’ locker room, a visitors’ locker room, things like that, has been a knock on our facility. Overall, these are things that are being built in all the new stadium that have been built in the last three or four years.”
That Davenport lacked some of those features was one reason, many believe, that the NCAA did not award UVa a regional this year.
Virginia hopes to one day add more private suites and increase Davenport’s seating capacity from 3,600 to 5,000. That will make the stadium even more attractive in the eyes of the NCAA and enhance the experience for fans. This project, though, will do plenty to help O’Connor as he works to lead the ‘Hoos back to Omaha.
“There are things that must happen for our program to continue to sustain where we’re at,” he said.
Those improvements are imminent, and for that he’s thankful. Still, O’Connor stressed that more money — several hundred thousand dollars — still must be raised for the enhancement project to get university approval.
“We’re not done yet,” he said.
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For more information about the project, contact Shooter Starr of the Virginia Athletics Foundation at (434) 982-5555 or email@example.com.