Baseball: Northwestern returns to Miller Park for first time in nearly two years


Daily file photo by Brian Meng

Anthony Alepra pitches in a 2019 game at Rocky and Berenice Miller Park. The Wildcats will host their first home series in nearly two years against Rutgers.

John Riker, Daily Senior Staffer


After a long time away from home, Northwestern is getting ready to play at Rocky and Berenice Miller Park this weekend.

Starting Friday, the Wildcats (10-8, 10-8 Big Ten) will take on Rutgers (9-8, 9-8 Big Ten) in a three-game series. But the absence of baseball in Evanston has been so lengthy that coach Spencer Allen had trouble recalling the Wildcats’ last home contest. 

“I can’t even remember the last one,” Allen said. “It’s going to be pretty special for me.”

So when was the last game at Miller Park? May 18, 2019, a 6-5 loss at the hands of Minnesota. When the coronavirus pandemic forced the NCAA to cancel all sporting events for the remainder of the school year on March 12, 2020 — just one day before NU was scheduled to play its first home game of the season — the Cats’ season came to an abrupt halt. 

For Marcus Attles, the Associate Athletics Director for Facilities and Operations, and the facilities staff, the announcement forced a sudden shift from preparation to preservation for the spring season. In addition to adjusting utilities and increasing security, the facilities staff also had to store the field’s artificial turf. 

“The initial reaction was to make sure that everything was secure and safe, especially knowing that we were moving to a remote learning environment,” Attles said. 

When NU invited coaches back to campus in September, Miller Park took on an additional role: office space. To allow for social distancing, the coaches traded in their previous shared offices for makeshift individual ones in the press boxes and suites.

In terms of adjustments to the field, the facilities staff upgraded the turf and dugout rail padding to enhance the players’ experience and implemented new rules regarding clubhouse capacity and social distancing guidelines.

But the most distinct change in Miller Park from the 2019 season will be limited crowds. The Big Ten currently restricts public attendance to spring sporting events, though the Cats plan to welcome some family members to the bleachers.

For Attles, this weekend’s series will mark the end of a long and unusual process. He said he is most looking forward to seeing NU’s coaches and players finally take the field at Miller Park after months of training. 

“They were preparing for their season last year and due to circumstances out of their control, their season was canceled,” Attles said. “That, I know, is devastating, but they have done a tremendous job, just staying the course, practicing, staying safe, staying healthy, and really minding our new protocols and procedures that we have in all of our facilities.”

For some of the Cats’ underclassmen, Friday will also mark their Miller Park debuts.

Junior shortstop Shawn Goosenberg, who saw plenty of action at Miller Park during his All-Big Ten Freshman Team season, said the familiarity of Evanston and the field will be one of the best parts of this weekend’s home series.

“We’ve been on the road, five weeks (with) planes, buses, all that,” Goosenberg said. “We’re all super excited to play at home. And it’s just nice to get to play on your own field, be the home team, be in our homes and get to hit in our facilities before the game.”

While the Cats’ long-awaited homecoming is a milestone in their 2021 season, NU is focused on getting a series win over a Big Ten rival. 

“It’s just going to be a lot of fun to be at home,” Allen said. “We’ve got a really, really tough opponent in Rutgers coming in who can really hit and have some veteran guys on the mound. It will be another great test.”


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Twitter: @john__riker

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