Students arrived on the University of La Verne campus Monday toting backpacks and hot coffee, some still sleepy-eyed from months of summer relaxation and others raring to go for the first day of t...
Bathed in the dusky haze of the afternoon sun, the smell of freshly mowed grass hovering as an undeniable harbinger of spring, the University of La Verne baseball and softball teams on April 8 donned their uniforms and stepped onto their brand-new fields at Campus West for the first time.
Home at last.
With the ceremonial first pitches — delivered on the baseball field by Board of Trustees Chair Luis Faura and on the softball field by University President Devorah Lieberman — a new era in University athletics was begun.
For the baseball team, it had been three and a half seasons since the part of the campus occupied by the baseball field was re-purposed for a new residence hall and parking.
The softball team had spent 14 seasons at Wheeler Park in La Verne.
“I am ecstatic,” softball coach Julie Smith said. “It has been a journey. This is my seventh year as coach and the topic of the fields has always been a conversation piece. Now it is very exciting for our players, who will get to christen the field. The reality of it is starting to hit.”
So are the Leopards. With a few last details nailed down, both the baseball and softball squads have been cleared to break out the bats and balls and play on their new diamonds, located at the south end of Wheeler Avenue just south of Arrow Highway. And the collective sighs of relief and jumps for joy were shared by the several hundred in attendance.
“Seeing our players, our talented student-athletes, in uniform today is a moment I will always remember,” Board Chair Luis Faura ’87 said. “And I know I am not alone when I say I am proud of our student-athletes, our coaches and our entire athletic department. They have all been affected in no small way by this project. But their sacrifices are greatly appreciated. Today, we give you the gift you have been waiting for: a facility for you to compete in, utilize your talents and bring home many victories!
“This is what we wanted for you and today’s grand opening honoring Coach Ben Hines and Coach Owen Wright on new turf is what La Verne is about — valuing its treasured past while it looks ahead to its exciting future.”
Hines ’58 and Wright each coached La Verne’s baseball program to a national championship — Hines in 1972 and Wright in 1995. Both were on hand to share in the celebration and they were honored in a special presentation as well. Hines literally built the old field with support from community members, and it was renamed in his honor long before Wright came to the school. The new baseball field bears his name as well.
“In many ways, they are both very much alike,” Jim Paschal, former coach and athletic director at La Verne, said of the two coaches. “And yet, Ben and Owen are completely different individuals. But they share a passion and a knowledge about baseball and coaching players.”
Hines was joined by his son, Bruce, who played baseball and football at the University of La Verne. Both are members of the University’s Athletic Hall of Fame.
Campus West is the product of a 1999 assessment that the University had no room to grow and that the cost of expansion was prohibitive. It is the fulfillment of a long-term strategy for the University, facilitated by a close working relationship with the City of La Verne. Twenty acres were donated by longtime La Verne supporters Nancy & Mike Brown; 30 additional acres were acquired through negotiations with the Metropolitan Water District. The city partnered with the University to acquire those 30 acres in a joint venture. The city later sold its 50% share to the University with the agreement that the community could use the facilities when the University wasn’t using them, making it the ultimate University-City partnership.
The new Campus West facilities include NCAA-compliant playing fields, lights for night use, batting cages, press boxes, clubhouse and lots of parking. There is also room for a multi-purpose field that will be shared with the City of La Verne for use by its recreation league teams.
Smith, a member of the 1996 U.S. Olympic softball team, said the softball field, with its skinned infield and synthetic turf outfield, is so nice, it may take a while for her players to get used to calling it their own.
“The first few games might feel like away games,” Smith said. “Then, they’ll go out and say, ‘Wow, this is really ours. It might not hit them for a while.”
Smith said the new facilities will not only give the current team an emotional boost, but that it will open a lot of doors for recruiting.
“I kind of steered away from the facilities before, with recruits,” she said. “But now it will be, ‘Look at this nice clubhouse. Now, let’s go look at our nice batting cage.’ This means a lot.”
Perhaps the happiest person of all is Director of Athletics Julie Kline, who has overseen major changes to the football field and track in Ortmayer Stadium as well.
“I am absolutely thrilled,” Kline said. “This is our opportunity to bring our student-athletes home. Like with ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ there’s no place like home. Our student-athletes are anxious to get on the field. Our home-field advantage is back!”
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