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Boston College Baseball: First draft of plans have positives but overall swing and miss

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Nothing is set in stone, but there’s plenty of room for improvement.

Birdball Crowd Quack John Quackenbos for BC Athletics

In the game of baseball, there are times when a batter gets up to the plate, takes a few practice hacks, digs into the box, takes a swing, and completely misses the first pitch. It all looks great before he gets in the box, but that first pitch, for whatever reason, catches him off guard. He just flat out fans on it.

Boston College submitted the first draft of the plans for the new baseball/softball complex to the Boston Redevelopment Authority, and they’re readily available online at the BRA’s website. It’s a 99-page document outlining every part of the new stadium complex on Brighton campus within the campus of the old St. John’s Seminary. It outlines everything, from the details of the stadium to mitigation factors, to environmental and sustainability works. For someone who has been awaiting the baseball stadium plans since they were announced, it was probably the most anticipated document I’ve read in a while.

Boston College got some things right in the proposal, but the majority of it feels like a swing and a miss. The good news is that it’s only a first draft, and there’s plenty of time for revision and change. Having worked on project plans, the final resolution usually looks nothing like the first draft, so nobody - me, the school, the team, or anyone else for that matter - is married to this set of plans.

I asked Mike Gambino about his thoughts on the plans, but he reiterated what he said when the announcement first came out. “I’m excited for a new facility (at BC),” he said. “I’m positive that the new facilities that will be built will play a big role in helping our players develop. I have all the confidence that what will be built will be exactly what our team needs.”

To better explain my position, let me revisit an old post begging BC to build the right stadium. In it, I defined what the stadium would need in order to make Birdball a big-time, consistent competitor at the national level:

Stadium Infrastructure

There’s a plus for replay capability at the stadium, especially since it’s starting to play an increased role in the game of baseball. The ACC implemented it as an experiment during the conference tournament in 2014, and while I’m not sure if it’s become mandatory or not, its first ever use at the College World Series this year is proof that we’re headed towards that as being part of the new world.

But the new stadium doesn’t have indoor batting tunnels or a locker room in its plans. Think about that for a second.

New England baseball teams absolutely, 100% need indoor training facilities; this year’s BC team shoveled out its batting cage in order to take swings before the Virginia series. So I’ll never understand the rationale behind putting the batting cages outdoors. Everyone in the ACC has indoor batting cages, including Pittsburgh, and even the schools who play in warm, tropical climates all year long can swing and pitch in indoor buildings. I’m not asking for what Wake Forest is doing, but you have to have something.

I also can’t really fathom how there isn’t even a locker room in the plans. At Shea Field, a locker room is a walk across the plaza away in Conte Forum. It’s not ideal, but it’s as functional as it can get.

The new stadium is being built on the complete opposite end of campus on a site that’s across the street, on the other side of Comm. Ave. I haven’t figured out yet if the school thinks the players should dress in Conte Forum, take a walk through campus, crossing Green Line tracks in full uniform and spikes, but there’s no way the players can dress at the field.

Seating

BC is getting seats behind home plate, which is a big deal, with the announced capacity is 1,000 chairbacks. That’s down from a capacity of 1,500 in the original proposal. This was done as mitigation to the impact on the surrounding community. I didn’t think this was a huge negative. Instead, I considered the downstream ramifications for expansion of capacity.

The overhead drawing of the stadium essentially pigeon-holes it into the existing topographical layout, with everything kind of smushed into the area. With batting cages and bullpens down the left and right field lines and virtually no space between the outfield wall and the tree lines, it’s going to be impossible to expand seating beyond that 1,000-seat capacity. Because of that, it would remain impossible for BC to host any postseason games at the new facility.

Is that worth consideration? Consider if third-seeded Long Beach State beat Miami in the Coral Gables Regional Final. They would’ve played BC, a fellow three-seed. Hosting the Supers would’ve been put to bid.

Hosting a Regional and Super Regional seems far-fetched because we’re not used to Birdball being successful. In reality, though, it was closer this year than we ever thought possible. If the team is being put in a position to do that consistently (which is the end goal), it’s only a matter of time before the possibility becomes reality.

Turf

I’ll give BC kudos on making the entire field artificial turf. I’m a traditionalist who feels baseball should be played on natural grass and dirt. Getting dirty is a badge of honor in the game. I also understand that doesn’t fly when you’re getting snowed out in March.

The New England Baseball Complex is all turf, including the base paths. So is Monan Park, which is shared by BC High and UMass Boston, and Northeastern’s Friedman Diamond over at Parsons Field. So is Pittsburgh.

Broadcast Capability

The proposal outlines a press box with a roof fit for cameras and special parking for media trucks, thereby getting BC (finally) on broadcast outlets. This is a plus.

But the press boxes are touted as “modest pre-engineered one-story buildings with metal siding. The baseball press box is (approximately 624 square feet)... Both structures are purposefully kept simply in design so as not to call attention to themselves and to be cost effective.”

There’s something about that statement that bothers me. The objective is being met (baseball becomes more available for people to watch), but at what cost?

Like I said, I don’t think this is the final rendering. An influx of money donations or the right break somewhere can change all of this in a heartbeat. This is literally the first time we’ve seen all of this. Mike Gambino repeatedly said he is trying to build this team into a contender every year, and he is convinced the program will get everything it needs to make it an ACC-caliber team.

It’s unfortunate, though, that this is the first plan. The plans should come out and make everyone excited. Instead, I’m nervous. The stadium can be a potential game changer, and it can be so if it’s not the most elaborate thing on the planet. It doesn’t have to be what the other conference teams have, but the blueprint is right in front of the school.

I trust that the school really does want to do right by its baseball program, especially after the way last season went. I’m also hopeful that future plans will build on this idea and give the program what it needs to reach that goal of “doing it every year.”

But the first draft makes me nervous. Please build the right stadium. This was only the first pitch of what will be a long at-bat, and for the sake of everyone, BC needs to ensure the last pitch is the one knocked clear out of the park.