Forman: Facilities are huge faux pas

Matt Forman

When I visited campus almost three years ago, of course I wanted to see the Lakefill. Of course I wanted to see the student center, the rock and the academic buildings. But as a sports fan, however weird it is, I most wanted to see the athletic facilities.

On that trip, I was impressed by Ryan Field. I was impressed by the Norris Aquatics Center, the Combe Tennis Center and Welsh-Ryan Arena. But there was one field that stuck out like a sore thumb – Rocky Miller Park.

As a rising high school senior, I had seen and played in nicer fields than The Rock. Although the conference isn’t exactly a baseball breeding ground, as a collegiate baseball fan, I knew Rocky Miller Park wasn’t going to cut it if Northwestern expected to compete in the Big Ten.

Curious if I was well directed, I followed the team throughout the season. In 2007, coach Paul Stevens’ squad went 18-36, the then-worst single-season record during Stevens’ tenure. That year, the baseball team did not win a Big Ten series until the last weekend of the year, when they swept Purdue in a four-game set.

Two years later, not much has changed. In 2009, Stevens’ crew went 14-35-1, now the worst record in Stevens’ 24 years. This year, the team did not win a conference series until the final weekend, when they swept Michigan in Saturday’s doubleheader.

Statistics and records aren’t the only things that haven’t changed. The field is the same. The dugouts are the same. The locker rooms are the same. And my claim that the Wildcats need a new field to be able to compete in the Big Ten is the same.

Last season marked the 50th year that the Cats have called Rocky Miller Park home. It also marked the 25th season since any renovations were made to field.

In the last seven seasons alone, many other NU athletic facilities have undergone a dramatic facelift. Last year, the softball team unveiled sunken dugouts, permanent seating and a press box at the updated Sharon J. Drysdale Field. Two years ago, the men’s soccer, women’s soccer and lacrosse teams were rewarded with the new Lakeside Field. Three years ago, the Luke Donald outdoor practice facility opened for the golf teams. Five years ago, the wrestling team debuted its new underground practice facility. That doesn’t even include the new weightlifting equipment at the Coon Center or the basketball team’s new locker rooms, freshly equipped with flat panel televisions.

NU should follow the rest of the Big Ten. Nine of the conference’s 11 schools have improved their baseball field in some capacity over the last ten seasons. The only school that has not is Minnesota, which has both an indoor and outdoor field at its disposal. That indoor facility happens to be a major-league one in the Metrodome, which is losing two of its tenants – Minnesota football and the Twins.

Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State have opened state-of-the-art stadiums over the last three seasons. Illinois and Ohio State added new players’ lounges.

But the Cats don’t just need a new field. Currently, the team’s locker rooms are located in Ryan Field. The stadium seats 600 people. The team splits batting cages with the softball team.

The 2009 baseball season was a disappointment. There’s no excuse for an 18-win season. It’s hard to place the blame all on Stevens. He’s doing as much as he can with the worst facilities on campus.

Deputy Sports Editor Matt Forman is a Medill sophomore. He can be reached at [email protected]