Jan. 12, 2016
Long Beach, Calif. - After extensive consideration and planning, the Blair Field renovations have begun. Phase I of the project is officially underway, kicking off a series of improvements to Long Beach's most storied baseball facility.
"Long Beach State Baseball has a rich and distinguished history gaining national recognition for the university and community. Ensuring continued success and the development of major league talent, requires a major financial investment in Blair Field," said LBSU athletic director Vic Cegles. "With the support of generous alumni and friends, we are ready to move forward with significant renovations that will enhance playability, skill development and the fan experience, all having remarkable benefit to the Dirtbags and the young people we serve in Long Beach."
In the initial phase of the renovations, a new outfield fence will be constructed in front of the existing wall, making the notorious pitcher's park slightly more forgiving to hitters. The original dimensions of 348-387-400-387-348 feet from left to right field will enclose to 335-380-395-380-330, and will be in effect at the start of the upcoming season.
The move is expected to yield more offensive production from a venue which allowed just four combined home runs to the Dirtbags and their visitors in 2015. Across 31 home games, that translated to a rate of one home run every 511 at-bats. The full impact of the move remains to be seen, beginning with the 2016 campaign, but Dirtbags head coach Troy Buckley is preparing for an infusion of runs.
"With the fences coming in you're going to see a little more offense," stated Buckley. "This will not lose the integrity of the park, it's not going to be a Cracker Jack box by any means, but it's going to be a little bit more fun."
The new fence will not only be closer, it will be shorter and safer as well. The new fence will stand just eight feet tall and will be padded, unlike the existing 10-foot concrete wall. As part of the renovations, the newly-vacant areas behind the outfield fence will eventually house a pair of three-mound bullpens, giving teams a larger, more protected site for pitchers to throw.
Down the right field line, the existing batting cages will make way for the new Troy & Danyll Tulowitzki Batting Facility, made possible by a $1 million donation from the All-Star shortstop. Construction on the batting facility will be ongoing during the 2016 season and will be one of the major additions in the first phase of construction.
Named for longtime Press-Telegram sports editor Frank T. Blair, the ballpark at the corner of 10th and Park has been home to Long Beach State baseball since 1993, and is also the home of high school baseball in Long Beach. The venue serves as a home ballpark for the Moore League, one of the most talent-rich high school leagues in the nation, and is the annual host of the prestigious Area Code Games, which every summer brings elite prep baseball talent from across the country to Long Beach.
"This is a city and a community piece. This is not just Long Beach State," said Buckley. "There are so many quality players and so much history that is well documented before I even got here. It's a fantastic venue and we want to see it improve without losing that feel of the old time and that quality and nostalgia of what that park does represent. You want to keep the integrity of what it has embodied, at the same time you want to make improvements that will benefit us in recruiting and will benefit our student-athletes."
Looking beyond Phase I, future plans include a modern 6,000-square-foot clubhouse and, eventually, a practice infield down the left field line. Stadium improvements with an eye toward fan experience and amenities will also be a major focus in future renovations. The historic venue is in line for an exterior facelift and facilities improvements that will make everyone feel comfortable at the ballpark.
As funding emerges through the Blair Field Campaign, additional construction will follow the completion of this initial phase. Fans will begin to see a new Blair Field in 2016, but it will just be the beginning of the renovation effort.
"The inception is starting and we will continue to work diligently, be resourceful, and be responsible for how we are going to move forward with the rest of the renovations," Buckley continued. "This is healthy change, this is competitive change, and this is much needed change for where we're going, not just in this initial phase, but into the future.
"Ultimately you want to put the whole body of work together, and it's got the potential to be real special--for everybody."
To participate in the Blair Field Campaign, contact Wayne Stickney at (575) 932-9419.
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