For Baseball Team, Loss Of Net Becomes Net Gain

Six weeks ago, the Harvard baseball team was facing a winter preseason without any live batting practice.

But all that’s changed since official team practices began on Feb. 1. Now the Crimson—just one month away from its season opener—is practicing in what Coach Joe Walsh calls the best conditions the team has had in his seven-year tenure at Harvard.

The Crimson was thrown a curveball when the Harvard Athletic Department decided to make aesthetic improvements to Lavietes Pavilion, home of the men’s and women’s basketball teams and, at the time, the baseball team’s only indoor practice facility. Those changes threatened to leave the team without a place to take hitting practice at game speed.

The Harvard operations staff removed a permanent net that had hung from the upper reaches of the Lavietes Pavillion while painting the gym’s ceiling.

Without the net, intended to protect the gym’s lighting and public address system from batted balls, the baseball team had to move its hitting practice elsewhere.

But now, through some innovative adjustments—including the construction of two brand new batting cages inside the nearby Palmer-Dixon tennis facility—the baseball team is back playing ball.

“We don’t have a facilities problem at all,” Walsh said. “I think we’re actually in a better situation now that we have the batting cages.”

When the net was first removed back in January, the Crimson was forced to hold informal captain’s practices in the Palmer-Dixon, former home of the Harvard tennis teams.

The site was not originally conducive to baseball. Palmer-Dixon’s hard courts left the team’s baseballs scuffed and warped. Worse, the dim lighting inside the building made it hard to see. Taking batting practice became a hazardous enterprise.

“Lights were definitely a problem,” second baseman Faiz Shakir said. “And in terms of baseballs, we would be going through buckets.”

At the time, the team figured it would only be a temporary inconveniece.

“I think Coach thought that [the net] would eventually go back up,” Shakir said.

But the net didn’t. According to Harvard Sports Information Director John Veneziano, the net was in such poor condition after it came down that it could not be reinstalled.

Until the cages were installed in Palmer-Dixon last month, Harvard’s hitters faced the prospect of going the entire spring preseason without facing live pitching.

Without a place to hit, Walsh and the team were forced to take matters into their own hands. Walsh purchased two temporary nets to replace the one removed from Lavietes in order to provide an enclosed area for the team’s pitchers to throw to hitters.

As for Palmer-Dixon, Walsh personally bought a halogen lamp to increase the lighting inside the building, and the Harvard operations staff laid down a carpet atop the courts, in addition to setting up the two cages.