Boston College is spending on facilities. The most sought-after, oft-requested improvement to the athletics infrastructure is apparently coming, and maybe, just maybe, there's light at the end of the tunnel from what's been a tough stretch through the 2015-2016 season.
For the first time since the original institutional plan announcement in 2009, the baseball program is due to receive a new stadium. Along with softball, there is a call for new stadiums to be placed out of the main campus in Chestnut Hill, currently behind Alumni Stadium, over to Brighton Campus in a beautiful new facility.
The announcement provides new life juice to a program currently on the rise as the '16 season begins. Coming out of what's been a five-year rebuilding process, BC is primed to make a run at the ACC Tournament for the first time since 2010, and the first weekend sweep over Northern Illinois provided more excitement than what's reverberated through some of the major sports this year.
The stadium is a game-changer for the Eagles, who have done a marvelous job doing what they're doing with Shea Field. Mike Gambino weathered the storm of rebuilding the program from the ground up in the wake of the 2009 NCAA Tournament appearance, and he's constructed a team that's a top-to-bottom type of competition. Taking on some of the nation's elite, there's a road to go, but they're heading in the right direction.
But the stadium is a game-changer only if it's "done right." Just rebuiding Shea Field over on Brighton Campus would be a mistake, a failure of sorts to continue the energetic drive towards the ACC's pack. The stadium needs to have a certain number of requirements in terms of program infrastructure, something to assure the Eagles of breaking through the glass ceiling created by their current home.
There's aspects to take under consideration, and there's questions to be asked. Seating, stadium infrastructure, capabilities for broadcast - they all have to be in the planning and thought process.
For example, the stadium doesn't necessarily need more seating but rather needs better seating. Watching a game at Shea Field is not easy. There's limited bleacher sections behind home plate and down the third base line, essentially sandwiched into land next to woods and a parking lot. The first base line is the ramp of the Beacon St. Parking Garage, again with the field pigeon-holed in against the area. Forget about outfield seating.
Seating at the new Brighton Stadium doesn't necessarily need to number up into the 2,500-3,000-seat capacity. In fact, building that many seats would be a mistake to begin with. College baseball isn't a huge draw, and even if the team were to start winning consistently, attendance up here isn't going to all of a sudden start breaking new records (except for special days like the ALS Game or the Wounded Warrior Project game).
But building with sight lines in mind have a way to build a stadium with the right seating behind home plate. You could easily put bleachers behind home plate, wrapping around the stadium out towards the dugout areas (which, unlike Shea, would probably be sunken). There's no need to fill in beyond that, but at the same time, the seating would become expandable either by portable bleachers or by allowing beach chair seating. It makes capacity deceptive, but at the same time doesn't outsize any expectation.
The stadium needs to have turf. Despite my love of natural grass and my desire to never play baseball on artificial surfaces, last winter made feel acutely aware of its purpose. Fields like Northeastern's Parsons Field and the New England Baseball Complex are playable because of artificial turf. Natural grass in March in New England runs the risk of a field being frozen, muddy, and essentially destroyed by Mother Nature before games ever start. Games might not be playable before mid-April in the wrong (or right?) conditions. So despite my hesitations and opposition, artificial turf for baseball in New England is a virtual requirement.
Stadium infrastructure is arguably the most important. New England baseball programs need indoor batting cages. They need indoor training. I think the indoor football facility proved that requirement, and the failures of The Bubble show just how hard it is to get time in January or February at BC among competing programs. In the ACC, nearly every program has dedicated baseball facilities with indoor batting cages. In order to compete at that level, the stadium needs some type of covered, indoor batting cage and pitching range for the players.
With all of this, there is one requirement for media that Shea Field sorely lacks. This season, BC plays no home games on the ESPN family of networks. Every other baseball program will host on television (or streaming media) in some capacity, including Pittsburgh. Even if the opponent, such as Georgia Tech or North Carolina, is the main reason for putting that particular game on television, they're still on and available. Because Shea Field can't sustain a television broadcast, there's no way to host. So the new stadium needs a press box capable of handling a visiting broadcast complete with production capabilities. Whether it's radio, ESPN, whatever - baseball needs to become more available for people to watch.
The goal for Boston College baseball is to continue to improve, to get back into the ACC Tournament, the NCAA Tournament, advance to Omaha for the College World Series. In the ACC, that's entirely possible just by finishing in the middle of the pack. But getting to the middle of the pack is easier said than done. BC's done a good job putting things together to make a run. The stadium could be a game changer. It just needs to be done properly.