By Gregg Bell, UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE – You couldn’t have blamed Lindsay Meggs if he had shoved contractors out of the way, seized control of a backhoe and started construction himself during this week’s groundbreaking on the Huskies’ new baseball operations building.
After all, he’s got a program to jump start.
“Beginning construction on our new team building sends the message that the University of Washington wants to compete in baseball in the Pac-12,” Washington’s second-year coach said of the $4 million project finally starting this week following years of delay.
“For myself and for the program, it’s about moving forward and not looking back,” Meggs said Wednesday, looking at the site and its machinery. “This has been a long time coming, and the fact that the process has begun has created a lot of energy – both with our returning players and in alums who have helped us get started. In a way, it’s a new beginning for us.”
As Meggs, his assistants and his players have been leading kids through their baseball camp inside adjacent Husky Ballpark this week, crews have been digging the foundation for the 9,000-foot operations facility. Mounds of dirt and rock are being moved inside perimeter construction fences behind the first-base dugout and down the right-field line. The plan is to have work done in March, in time for the 2012 home season — Seattle’s notorious winter weather permitting, of course.
“Finally getting a shovel in the ground gives us credibility with all those alums that have had a wait-and-see attitude. The buzz over the last two weeks has been amazing,” Meggs said of the overdue building and the momentum it could generate to get all of Husky Ballpark redone. “And beyond that, building new facilities is a must in order for us to recruit the best players in the state of Washington — and beyond.”
Meggs, who just finished his second season at UW after arriving from Indiana State, sees the building as the basis for new recruiting success and ultimately the revitalization of Husky baseball. The program has produced 18 conference championships and 17 All-Americans in its 110-season history.
“We play in a BCS conference with BCS-level facilities. In order to compete in the Pac-12 you have to send the message that you will do all it takes to compete in this conference,” said Meggs, who was an honorable mention All-Pac-10 third baseman at UCLA in 1983.
“The University of Washington is about championships. And this is a clear step in that direction.”
The bigger portion of baseball’s overall facilities expansion is a separate, $10-12 million overhaul of the main, 2,212-seat Husky Ballpark into a 3,000-seat stadium. Plans call for a permanent seating bowl with chair backs instead of wooden bleachers, a half-dozen suites, roof coverage for 25-percent of seats, a grass berm that could seat 500 students and families beyond left field, a new press box and permanent concourse and concession areas.
The stadium, which will eventually be connected to the second floor new baseball operations building, is still in the funding stage. With the energy surrounding the imminent renovation of Husky Stadium, a consensus is forming that now is a prime opportunity to modernize UW’s athletic facilities.
The first part of the project is underway, visible to passersby that can see the yellow machinery and chain-link construction fences from Montlake Boulevard.
The operations center will have two floors and is being built immediately east of the existing access road and down the ballpark’s right-field line. The building will end just north of the current bullpen area in the right-field corner, and crews are designing it around the existing stadium light pole there.
Designs by SRG Architects of Seattle call for the first floor to include a modern player locker room spanning 1,600 feet facing the playing field on the east side, behind the building’s glass-enclosed entrance lobby. Huskies will have direct access to the field from the locker room through a “mud” room.
That will be a vast improvement over Washington’s current, remote locker room. It is beneath Marv Harshman Court, up the access road and around a parking lot from Husky Ballpark, which was last updated in 1998.
There will also be a 400-square-foot medical training room on the new facility’s ground floor, plus an umpires’ room, a players’ study room and an equipment room.
The second floor will include a 1,400 square-foot meeting area that can serve as a pregame reception area for guests and supporters of the program. That room will have sweeping views of the field and of Lake Washington behind it, and will be suitable for hosting events on non-game days.
The upper level, to be accessed by the glass-enclosed, front stairwell or by an elevator, will also house the coach’s offices. Some such as Meggs’ will overlook the field. The second floor will also contain a video room and a coaches’ locker room.
Bayley Construction of Mercer Island, Wash., is building the facility. Plans are for it to eventually connect on the second floor to the new stadium’s permanent seating bowl via a concourse walkway.
With its unique, lakeside location and sightlines to Mount Rainier, Husky Ballpark and its operations building are poised to transform into one of the West’s premier college baseball venues. At least that’s the idea behind eventually completing both steps of the project, to catch the attention of recruits while providing the best possible facility for those Huskies already here.
“Obviously our first goal is to be competitive in the Pac-12,” Meggs said, in advance of an extra-large recruiting class due in this fall. “But once this stadium and facility are complete, we believe it will give us the opportunity to compete nationally, as well. And that’s why we’re here.”
Washington’s athletic administration also sees the project propelling Husky baseball back to its tradition of excellence, now that digging has begun on the long-awaited facility at one of college baseball’s most picturesque sites.
“This will give players traction towards success,” said Chip Lydum, UW’s associate athletic director for operations and capital projects.
“The field is in an extraordinary location. You hear about `location, location, location.’ Well, today you could never acquire real estate this valuable on the shores of Lake Washington to build a baseball facility.”