By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE – John Schreiber stood on the patio of the Wayne Gittinger Team Building and marveled at what was before him.
Finally, after decades of plans and dreams, Husky Baseball had its new stadium. And the “Diamond on Montlake” was shimmering.
Schreiber, a former Husky baseball player from the UW Class of 1990, was looking across the right-field line into Washington’s $15 million Husky Ballpark on its opening night. The all-FieldTurf playing surface – except for the dirt pitcher’s mound – shined below him. To his immediate right he could see the state-of-the-art, $4 million Team Performance Center with five indoor batting cages and an automated-feed pitching machine that includes a computer to simulate opposing pitchers.
Beyond that, Schreiber could see the snow-packed peak of Mount Rainier looming over Union Bay and Lake Washington -- just beyond Tim Lincecum’s image and retired Huskies jersey number 14 wrapped onto the right-field wall.
The sun was shining brilliantly on a crisp, 50-degree, early spring night. Blue skies matched the color of Lake Washington. Puffy, white clouds from the Cascade foothills stood further above the purple, padded outfield walls.
It was all enough to take a Husky’s breath – and words – away.
“I’m … speechless,” Schreiber said.
Now the president and chief financial officer for InfoArmor, an identity fraud-prevention firm based in Phoenix, the Husky of 25 years ago shook his head.
“I played at old Graves Field, waaaay out there,” Schreiber said.
He pointed far over Husky Soccer Stadium next door, past some still-leafless trees, toward the Baskin-Robbins off Sand Point Way. “We had to talk a long job – or run, depending on how much trouble we were in – from our locker room in Hec Ed (Pavilion) to the field. Down that gravel road (that still runs behind the new place’s outfield wall).”
The place in which he was standing Friday, one floor above the Huskies’ new locker room and 10 feet to the right of the edge of the new stadium’s grandstand? It was a swampy marsh attached to Union Bay.
“This,” Schreiber said, “is just awesome.”
That was the consensus from the approximately 1,000 fans and more than 100 former Husky players who came for Husky Ballpark’s grand opening Friday night.
They marveled at the 42-foot-by-14-foot video board that displayed replays, “in-motion” headshots of the players, full statistics, an in-progress box score and funny video messages from Husky players between innings. They absorbed the new sound system, the action scenes of Husky Baseball’s heritage on the outfield walls that flank “WASHINGTON BASEBALL” printed across the center-field section. They could see the new Home Plate Suites, the new press box, the new … everything.
Then they saw the Huskies (14-5-1) win for the 11th time in 12 games. They rallied from being down 4-0 to Arizona in the first inning to an 8-7 victory that was as thrilling as their new park.
Before the game, the “Old Dawgs” walked past the Husky Band playing down the right-field line and onto the field just before first pitch. They walked through a cordon of Husky cheerleaders, who with their pompoms had greeted attendees from in front of the home-plate entrance moments earlier.
“The band? Cheerleaders? We never had the band and cheerleaders at our games!” Schreiber said, smiling.
The Husky baseball alumni, men who had heard for decades about dreams for what they were now standing inside, lined up on the outfield edge of the brown infield turf from second base to the right-field line.
Minutes earlier, in the center of the diamond, six Huskies representing the program’s last six decades threw out simultaneous, ceremonial first pitches to UW players crouching at home plate. The six from the past: Daryl “Lefty” Burke (1957-59); Dana Halvorson (1968-69); Ray “The Machine” Price (1971-74); Scott Brow (1988-90); Kevin Miller (1996-98); Sean White (2000-03); Jeff Heaverlo (1997-99); and Ryan Lentz (1996-98).
We’ll call all six strikes -- even if a couple bounced off the FieldTurf into their receivers’ gloves.
As Seattle country and bluegrass recording artist and songwriter Dana Pierce sang a classy rendition of the National Anthem a few minutes later, a float plane flew over on its way across Lake Washington.
Lawyer Milloy appeared next. UW’s All-American safety and then four-time NFL Pro Bowl player was also Washington’s center fielder from 1993-95. Milloy climbed atop the Dawgs’ dugout wearing an untucked, purple Huskies jersey with his baseball number 9.
“Dawg fans are you READY?!” Milloy bellowed into a public-address microphone. “It’s time to play BALL!!!”
Thursday, Husky starter Jared Fisher said he was going to be extra jacked for the first pitch he was going to throw in the new park.
“I just want it to be a strike,” he said. “I don’t want it to hit somebody or something.”
At 6:07 p.m. Friday, the junior from Newport High School in the Seattle suburb of Bellevue fired a belt-high fastball past Arizona leadoff batter Scott Kingery. Umpire Scott Higgins called “STRIKE!” and the crowd roared. Then Higgins rolled the baseball to the new Huskies’ dugout for ceremonial keeping.
That ball won’t be the only symbol of what this new Husky Ballpark represents for the program of coach Lindsay Meggs, the man who with UW Director of Athletics Scott Woodward made the stadium dreams come true. The Huskies haven’t been to the NCAA tournament since 2004 but are now 3-1 in the Pac-12. Last weekend they got UW's first series win at Arizona State in 10 years.
“Unreal, man. It’s big time,” Huskies first baseman Branden Berry said. “I’m still in shock, to be honest with you. It’s better than I can even imagine. This is one of the best venues around – in the whole country.
“The most special part about it is the culture change. When I first got here, we had a Podunk locker room, the field had wooden bleachers. Coach Meggs has done a great job changing the culture here, and I want to be a part of it.”
Friday night he sure was. Glowing in brilliant sunlight, with six decades of Husky Baseball wowed and watching, Fisher made the first game move at “The Diamond on Montlake.”
“Growing up a Husky fan, spending my whole life coming to games as a kid, the stadium wasn’t the reason you came. You were standing in gravel and rain,” he said. “Having this stadium is the start of a new era of Husky Baseball. I think this new stadium will help us rise.
“Now that we have this we don’t take it for granted. We are all ready to prove this is a stadium we deserve.
“We are going to get after it.”