The University of Delaware baseball team has finally gotten to play in the renovated Bob Hannah Stadium, where work was delayed due to the harsh winter.
Senior Sports Reporter
Slowly walking through empty acreage, Kevin Costner’s character hears an ominous unknown voice. It urges, “If you build it, they will come.”
In a local scene similar to the results in “Field of Dreams,” the baseball team was treated to what seemed a little bit like heaven last week.
As the team began their weekend series against Northeastern last Friday, the ballfield they stepped on was different than what they had become accustomed to. The long-awaited renovations to Bob Hannah Stadium were unveiled, displaying what Coach Jim Sherman describes as, “one of the premier baseball facilities in the Colonial Athletic Association and the East coast.”
Amidst the substantial renovations to Bob Hannah Stadium are heated 70-foot dugouts on both sides of the field, a new scoreboard overlooking rightfield, expanded home and visitors’ bullpens, maximized storage space inside and out the facility, a backstop meant to improve fans vantage points, redesigned batting cages and stadium fencing, and a synthetic turf field.
“This turf is state-of-the-art,” Sherman said. “The only dirt is on the mound. It’s revolutionizing the idea of turf all over again. There has been years of research done on the surface, and the kids will love playing on it.”
The $2.5 million project, which officially began in the fall of 2013, showcases numerous installments and improvements that were originally slated to make their grand reveal on opening day. Freezing conditions and the second most snowfall the state of Delaware has seen in one winter halted the administration from scheduled groundwork.
The weather forced the Blue Hens to play their initial 14 “home” games at nearby Hartford Community College, in Bel Air, Md., which also has a newly instated all-turf ballfield. Renovations outside the playing surface will also be occurring throughout the spring season, with all installments aimed for completion by the summer.
“The new stadium is unbelievable,” junior rightfielder Ryan “Norm” Donkin said. “The whole atmosphere, everything about it. Brand new. The outfield was always wet last year, it barely drained. Not having games rained out, not having to reschedule, we can rest easy knowing we’re going to play the game now.”
Bob Hannah Stadium opened in 1966 and has been the recipient to a handful of slight overhauls in its roughly five decades of ballplay.
“It had good character,” said senior third baseman E.J. Stoltzfus. “It was played in by dozens of great players, but this new stadium is so nice it’s going to be hard to miss the old one. The center is deeper than most, the gaps play differently, it gives the batter more exciting opportunities at the plate.”
The Blue Hens have already began to experience the new possibilities the field has to offer for a lucky batter. The opening series played in Bob Hannah Stadium saw a sweep of CAA rival Northeastern Huskies.
The first-ever action in the renovated stadium set the tone for the kind of magic now possible in Newark. A scoreless game going into the bottom of the twelfth inning, Donkin’s suicide squeeze bunt brought home center fielder Joe Giacchino for a rousing and rarely seen victory in collegiate play.
“There’s now a chance for rare and fairly unseen gameplay,” Sherman said. “Balls in deep left or right center, they’re not just going to be doubles any longer, there’s going to be a lot more triple opportunities. We saw that already with Giacchino and [first baseman] Jake Clark. This ballpark offers a lot of chances for some unexpected plays.”
Many of these chances lie awaiting in the newly constructed outfield. Left field now hosts a 20-foot tall fence, which players and coaches refer to as the, “Blue Monster.”
Knocking one out of the park through centerfield will become a daunting task. Depending on where exactly the wind may take it, a ball must surpass anywhere from 400 to 410 feet in distance to become a home run.
“Balls take higher bounces off the turf now, too,” Donkin said. “If you top the ball at the plate, that can now cause more infield singles. That could really change the game, now that you have something that’s usually an out that has become an infield chopped single, if it’s someone with decent running capabilities.”
During an adjustment period, the Blue Hens show no signs of awkward transitioning. They have gone 4-1 in their first 5 games at the new Bob Hannah Stadium.
Although the stadium may be considered better by most, the Blue Hens hope that in due time, their stadium will bring about an even better team for years to come.
“You can already tell, the players are appreciative and excited,” Sherman said. “In the long run, this will enhance opportunities for recruiting. We can bring a recruit in now, and hopefully have a leg up on a lot of schools.”