The new Husky Ballpark is considered one of the largest recent facility transformations in all of college athletics
Brian Wolfe stands looking out of picture windows on the second floor of the sparkling Wayne Gittinger Baseball Team Building, the one that didn’t exist when he arrived at Washington four years ago.
He looked out across the right-field foul line at the workers and their screeching, concrete saws that are putting the final touches on the stunning rebuild of Husky Ballpark. The senior infielder-outfielder simply shakes his head and smiles.
A dream of Huskies for decades – one conceived in the last couple years by the designer of Safeco Field -- is finally, spectacularly a reality.
Wolfe sees under the sharp, clean diagonals of the new grandstand roof the Home Plate Club, which has a view of Mount Rainier beyond the outfield. Below those, he can spot where there will be permanent seating for 2,406 in the infield area. A concourse and concession areas, with restrooms and a team store is taking shape. He is already practicing each day amid the construction workers on the shiny, new FieldTurf that now covers on the entire playing surface (except for a real-dirt pitchers’ mound), all the way to the outfield walls. Those walls will be padded purple and display a collage of subdued action photos of Tim Lincecum and other legends of UW baseball’s 114 years, like Dodger Stadium has for its big-league team in Los Angeles.
Wolfe turns to his right and marvels at the 8,000-square-foot Team Performance Center just off the new stadium’s right-field corner. That is where the Huskies will take ground balls and indoor batting practice against an opposing pitcher depicted with differing arm angles and pitches on a state-of-the-art, $30,000 video software program.
Washington’s facilities have joined ranks among the most sparkling jewels in college baseball.
Wolfe shakes his head again.
“To see where we’ve come in five years,” the veteran Husky says, “it’s nuts.”
TRACING THE HISTORY OF HUSKY BALLPARK
The current location of Husky Ballpark is the third site for UW Baseball on the campus over the last 60 years. From the late 60’s to 1997, the team played at Graves Field on the northwest portion of the UW athletic campus across 45th Street from Safeway and Burgermaster. Prior to that, the team played just steps north of Hec Edmundson Pavilion at the current site of Bill Quillian Tennis Stadium.
The concrete seating that surrounds court one of Quillian Stadium is the lone remnant of the old ballpark. The field was relocated to make room for the Intramural Activities Building, which to this day still serves thousands of UW students and faculty as a campus recreational hub.
The move was made possible after the Army Corp of Engineers artificially dropped Lake Washington via the Ballard Locks, opening up shoreline space along the west part of the athletic campus.
Originally, there was a practice field and playing field west of where the current UW golf driving range sits. Department officials intended to construct a playing surface adjacent to the university’s driving range, but after wood stands that were erected pulled apart as they sunk down into the settling landfill, the decision was made to utilize the field closest to current Mary Gates Memorial Drive where the land was more stable.
The Huskies spent 37 years playing at that location. Known as Graves Field, the facility offered stability, but presented numerous logistical challenges for the program including a walk from locker room to field that was over a quarter-mile long.
If the weather was not conducive to outdoor practice, the team would find alternate practice locations. Hec Edmundson Pavilion housed the team’s batting cages for years before the arena received a facelift in 1999. Husky Baseball teams relied on ingenuity to locate practice spaces during this era, at times practicing on the turf at Husky Stadium, and opening several seasons having not practiced on Graves Field prior to their home opener.
To improve the program’s practice arrangements, department officials moved the field to its current location in the late 1990’s. Alongside the move came an arrangement with the university, where the athletic department exchanged the land that housed Graves Field and incurred construction costs for a recreational field for student usage, due north of the Intramural Activities Building. The university received several prized student-services assets, and athletics emerged with their prized piece of property. And the rest, as they say, is history.
In the fall of 2013, Husky Football experienced the tremendous impact a first-class facility can offer a program. In the midst of the celebration and fanfare due the Husky Stadium renovation, workers labored on another gem just a few hundred yards north; quietly constructing a baseball stadium that would rival any in the Pac-12, and be considered among the biggest recent facility transformations in all of collegiate sports.
The completion of Husky Ballpark will offer a sense of consistency among Washington’s athletic campus on Montlake and stand as a testament to the loyal support of the Husky faithful, with over $5 million of the $19 million total project cost generated in the form of donations. Senior Associate Athletic Director Jen Cohen says the philanthropic support has been remarkable, but not surprising given the Tyee Club’s longstanding generosity and support.
“We have some very special donors who have responded to the call of providing this program what they need to compete at the highest level,” Jen Cohen, Senior Associate Athletic Director said. “This project is about creating the best possible experience for our student-athletes, and to see this kind of support from our generous donors really demonstrates how much they care about Husky athletics.
It’s hard to describe the impact we anticipate this having on our program,” Cohen continued. “I can’t wait for our fans to experience a game in the new facility.”
With season ticket packages available for the first time and premium seating offerings in the Home Plate Club, fans will have opportunities to experience Husky Ballpark in new ways, beginning with its grand opening Fri., March 21, when the Dawgs host Arizona at 6 p.m.
Enhancements to the fan experience include a new state-of-the-art video board in left field with the same dimensions and pixel-rate as the new Husky Hi-Def board in Husky Stadium. The new park will also feature fan amenities like permanent restrooms and concessions that Husky Baseball fans have never seen from a home venue, all set against the picturesque backdrop of Lake Washington.
The enormity of the project is not lost on head coach Lindsay Meggs, who has witnessed the transformation firsthand.
“I am thrilled for our guys because they feel like they have a home they can be proud of,” Meggs said. “There is going be some swagger when we come out of the locker room because we feel like we are going to have an advantage because of where we are playing and the energy that goes along with it. We will feel like Stanford does when they play at home, like we are playing in a ballpark where we should have an advantage and people should be in the stands to watch the games.
“It is just going to be a great feeling.”