Davenport field, the home field for the Virginia Cavalier baseball team, is now undergoing an estimated $18 million dollar expansion project with one thing in mind: the fans.
Third year baseball player Jack Weiller says that the expansion focuses entirely on the fan experience and rewarding the community that has supported the team through success and failure.
“It’s a completely different vibe for us and fans and it is 100% amazing and exciting. I’m absurdly excited about it, I know my parents are, and I’m assuming my friends are,” Weiller said.
The renovations will create this new vibe include a new grand entrance to welcome fans into a concourse that extends to the outfield scoreboard. The temporary wood bleacher seating that was above the former visiting dugout will be replaced with high quality, chair back seats. The other set of temporary wood bleachers beyond the right field wall will also be replaced by new group bleacher seating.
The new concourse will feature improved concessions, merchandise and restrooms. It will also provide a covered strolling area for fans to overlook the new Virginia baseball bullpen, a team addition in this fan-oriented expansion, and have various new vantage points in the stadium to view the game.
When Brian O’Connor became the head coach of Virginia baseball fourteen years ago, the stadium had only temporary wood bleachers behind home plate and the dugouts. Now, Davenport field seats around 5,000 fans, including these bleachers and hill-side space for fans.
About four years ago, O’Connor, along with his staff and the Virginia athletic program, decided that there needed a more permanent plan for the stadium and bring specific changes for fans off of the field.
“The reason behind [the renovations] are we’ve got all these great fans that have come here and supported this team and now was the time to provide them a nicer, higher quality seat, to provide them restrooms and concessions that are not portable restrooms and things, and overall, making this stadium a better fan-friendly environment,” O’Connor said.
In the time that Coach O’Connor has been at the head of the program, the team has had great success, appearing in the playoffs every season and winning at least 38 games a season (there are typically 55 games played in the regular season).
The team won a national championship in 2015 and made four appearances in the College World Series. However, O’Connor attributes this accomplishment to the community that fills the seats at Davenport field.
“We wouldn’t be where we are at without our fans support. Some days it’s 40 degrees in February or March, and we got people out here. And our players see it. They see the dedication and how committed our fans are to this program,” O’Connor said.
Despite their previous success, the Cavaliers have been eliminated in the first round of postseason play by low D1 teams in the 2016 and 2017 playoff tournaments.
Weiller has never been on a college team that has made it past the first round. However, he had seen the dedication first hand from the fans who continue to sell out season tickets and feels they are deserving of this reward.
“Our fans have stuck through a lot of things. Even that national championship year was not the smoothest road to winning that ring. It’s really a reward for being who they have been and supporting us for the last fifteen years ever since Coach O’Connor, Coach McMullan and Coach Kuhn have gotten here,” Weiller said.
One of those fans is season ticket holder Joe Fallica who has been following the expansion project since it broke ground last June. Fallica has been a loyal season ticket holder and member of the Virginia Athletic Foundation since 2000, three years before the O’Connor era.
“Everything from top to bottom is going to be better. So as a fan, you gotta look forward to something like that,” Fallica said.
Fallica is looking forward to choosing his new seats at the stadium given that the expansion has created hundreds of new seats and viewpoints.
“I definitely think it’s a reward to the fans because it improves, or potentially improves, your game day experience. It’s a nicer park, it’s a cleaner park, it’s bigger,” Fallica said. “It’s just done the right way.”
Another season ticket holder is UVa student Grace Deal, who says that in the six years that her family has enjoyed the success of the team, she noticed the higher demand for seating at Davenport field.
“People go and sit on that green space and it will be super crowded. And there will be people with general admission tickets but no seats,” Deal said.
Deal also noticed that people who don’t have seats will crowd underneath the concourse, especially on hot days late in the season. With the creation of the new seats, Deal says the problem of overcrowding could be solved.
“I think if you have a bigger stadium, you have the ability to get more people to come watch your games because they have a comfortable seat to be in, they have a place to go, and they feel like they are more part of the sport. I feel like we’ll get more fans, even though we’re fantastic and we have been for a long time,” Deal said.
Those fans will also see game-day changes on the field. The UVA team will move from the third baseline to the first base side dugout. This allows the team to be closer to the new concourse and bullpen.
Permanent seats will be added where the former Virginia bullpen was, and the visiting bullpen will now be along the warning track on the visiting side.
“Now with this expansion, there’s going to be more of our fans on [the right field side] and operationally, it works better over here,” O’Connor said.
The expansion will also feature new coaching rooms and a player development center underneath the concourse expansion, but there is a unique twist being added to the project.
A luxury club will be added on the field next to the first base dugout occupied by the Virginia team. The club will feature 140 seats that will be for purchase individually per game or for season ticket holders.
The idea is to give fans can have the experience and the amenities of being in a luxury suite without paying the premium price for it, according to O’Connor.
“It will be very similar to nationals park behind home plate like the PNC club or the President’s club that’s back there,” O’Connor said.
The project is being entirely supported by donations to the Virginia Athletics Foundation and should ultimately cost around $18 million dollars, although fundraising is still ongoing.
Among the project’s leaders is Dirk Katstra, the executive director of the Virginia Athletics Foundation, which oversees all of the fundraising for all projects for Virginia sports.
“Typically the way these projects get started is we start with a lead gift or combination of people making significant gifts and then we move through the rest of the fundraising process focusing on the larger gifts first,” Katstra said.
One of the head donors on the Davenport expansion is former Virginia baseball player Ryan Zimmerman, who now plays as the first baseman for the Washington Nationals.
In a video addressed to Virginia Sports TV, Zimmerman addresses the potential effect that his donation will have on the future prospects to Virginia baseball.
“NCAA sports now, you have to have the best facilities… I mean you obviously have to compete with the other schools with facilities and the stadium and to be able to help out just a little bit and to do something for a school, a University, and an organization that gave me so much is the least I can do,” Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman is among dozens of Virginia baseball alumni to donate to the expansion. A fundraising initiative was launched earlier in the year by the team to attract around $2 million of project donations from previous Virginia baseball players, with around $1.9 million dollars raised already. O’Connor is convinced that the goal will be met by the end of the year.
“Even guys that played on our team last year that left here to go into professional baseball that have gotten sizable signing bonuses have given to this project and I think that says a lot about a young person that walks out of here as a 21 year old having played here just four months ago and has already written a check back to the program and the school,” said O’Connor.
To the current players the expansion will be impressive, but will have a sizable effect on new recruits coming to the visit the school as well. The excitement to play in front of a larger attendance in a real stadium like feel, Weiller said, is immeasureable to a high school recruit.
“Obviously UVA is such a beautiful school, Charlottesville is such a beautiful city that it really sells itself but I mean adding such an exciting expansion to an already beautiful ballpark, it’s just going to be able to sell itself even more if that’s even possible,” Weiller said.
“I can tell you since we put the first shovel in the ground on this project and we’ve had recruits come here, they’ve been blown away because what it does is it sends a message of how much the University and the athletic department care about having a high quality baseball program,” O’Connor said.
In addition to new recruits, the expansion will also interest the NCAA committee in choosing hosting sites for postseason play. The NCAA chooses host sites based off of the team’s in-season success, and while Virginia has hosted nine regionals in Coach O’Connor’s fourteen years, the expansion creates new attractions that make them competitive with other ballparks.
“The reality is when those decisions are made, those decisions are made that your team has to be playing at a certain level anyways. But certainly, the better it is, the better opportunity to have those tournaments here,” O’Connor said.
The project is set to be completed by the opening day of baseball season in February 2018 and O’Connor is ready for the fans to see the reward for their dedication.
“Our stadium is going to be perfect for what is needed in this community at this school,” O’Connor said.