Moccia: Abe Martin field needs updates

Baseball field renovations behind schedule, projected to finish on time

The renovations to Abe Martin Field have hit a snag with their initial plans, but university administrators say the project is still set to finish on time.

Phil Gatton, director of plant and service operations, said Tuesday the university is in the process of selecting an

Projected renovation of Abe Martin Field. | Saluki Athletics Provided Photo

architect or engineer who will look at the specific needs and desires of the Athletic Department and then provide a better estimated cost of the project rather than the $3 million to $5 million Moccia said the Athletic Department expected to pay.

According to plans provided by Gatton, the Athletic Department wanted a firm selected by May, but that hasn’t happened yet.

The preliminary plans for renovations were approved by the SIU Board of Trustees Dec. 8, and the initial budget of $5 million was for the addition of lights, a new turf field and a new grandstand with a state-of-the-art pressbox
and new dugouts.

Planning for the renovations began in 2004, when former Athletic Director Paul Kowalczyk laid out his initial plans for the Saluki Way project, which provided a new football stadium and renovations to the SIU Arena among other changes to the university.

Gatton said the Athletic Department is still hopeful an architect or engineer will be selected and that the project will have preliminary designs with programming and cost estimates submitted to the SIU Board of Trustees by its
Sept. 13 meeting.

Once the architecture firm creates designs, which Gatton said should be done by January 2013, the Athletic Department will put the project up for bids. Gatton said while the architecture firm will be selected based on quality, the contractors will be selected by the
lowest bid.

Once the bid is finalized, the plans provided by Gatton said the Athletic Department put the bid contract up for approval with the SIU Board of Trustees Feb. 14, 2013. The contracts will take about two months to finalize, after which construction will begin, which should take between six and eight months months and finish in December 2013.

Abe Martin Field, named after a former coach who resurrected the Saluki baseball program in 1947 and coached for 33 seasons, is the oldest baseball facility in the Missouri Valley Conference, and several players and coaches said they understand the need for renovations.

“It just doesn’t keep up with the parks we play at,” junior third baseman Austin Montgomery said. “Our field is probably the worst in the Valley. We don’t really have the big atmosphere of the big stadiums and fields.”

Of the eight stadiums in the MVC, Abe Martin Field is the only one that hasn’t been renovated in the new millenium. Old bleachers, small dugouts and declining field conditions are reasons why Athletic Director Mario Moccia said the field desperately needs renovations.

“It’s not fan-friendly. The restrooms are kind of in the back; they’re dark. The concession stand is a trailer,” Moccia said. “It’s hard for me to take a recruit out there, and we have no lights; there’s standing water in the outfield, and the pressbox doesn’t have a restroom, and it looks like a World War II pillbox, and you have crummy stands.”

Moccia said he’s been happy with the job SIU baseball coach Ken Henderson has done with a field that needs to be renovated.

Henderson said he wants the new turf because it will help the team through adverse weather conditions, since the current field of Bermuda Grass doesn’t drain well after rain.

He also said having lights at Abe Martin will be a big deal, not only because SIU can play night games, but it will be able to play games during the day without darnkess threating to postpone the game.  He said the team will be able to practice under the lights, which will help it get used to road games played at night.

“I want to create a better atmosphere at Abe Martin, but in terms of recruiting, it’s a big issue,” Henderson said.

Henderson said the old facility hurt recruiting, and now, with pictures of the construction plans, the Salukis have landed recruits that Henderson said he didn’t think they could get two or three years ago.

Pitching coach P.J. Finigan, who handles a bulk of the recruiting duties for baseball, said the first contact any coach can have with a recruit is through email Sept. 1 of the recruit’s junior year of high school, a full nine months before a coach can contact a recruit over the phone. When Finigan used to contact recruits, the first thing he would show them is pictures of the facility.

“(The facility) is where you spend a lot of your time. You probably spend half your time here, so it is a big part of what goes into your decision,” Finigan said.

Finigan said SIU has lost players to teams such as Western Kentucky that have more impressive facilities than Abe Martin. Now that Finigan has pictures of the proposed construction, recruits have been more responsive to the idea of playing at Abe Martin, he said.

Senior Associate Athletic Director Jason King said the renovations to Abe Martin weren’t included in the first phase of the Saluki Way project because other things needed to happen first such as a new track facility to replace the old one in former McAndrew Stadium.

Fundraising efforts started in 2011, and King said the Athletic Department has raised approximately $750,000 that the school will match with a loan to the Athletic Department, which brings the total money raised so far to $1.5 million.

Moccia said the Athletic Department won’t raise the student athletic fee to pay off the loan from the university, but it will consider selling tickets to baseball games that are currently free. Tickets will remain free for students.

King said the Athletic Department has, for the most part, focused on alumni who played baseball at SIU to solicit donations for the project. He said it plans to branch out fundraising efforts in the future, but the money raised is in line with where King said the Athletic Department predicted it would be at this point.

Depending on the amount of money raised, Gatton said the construction could come in phases, meaning one part of the renovations would be completed before another part is ready to start. King said the Athletic Department approaches the fundraising like it will be able to do every phase of construction at once.

Gatton said that originally, the lights were the first priority of the Athletic Department, although he said it now seems that artificial turf is at the top of the wish list.

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