Harvard baseball coach Joe Walsh won’t have to worry about pesky parents reaching over O’Donnell Field’s short fence and forcing food on their children—and his players—any more.
While the Crimson’s current on-field accomodations are too small to house Walsh’s entire squad, forcing the exile of several players to exposed benches nearby each game, new, more spacious dugouts headline a bevy of capital improvements planned for Harvard’s baseball and softball fields this off-season.
“It’s a little chaotic with the kids sitting on benches,” Walsh said. “You know, you have fans sitting right behind the bench at a basketball game and no one says anything. But you put 12 baseball guys out there and you’ve got parents tapping kids on the shoulder asking, ‘You want anything? I’m going to the store.’”
With his team huddled together, sheltered from both the elements and its fans, Walsh said that he hopes to more effectively instruct his players during the middle of the game, a goal that in the past was undermined by the sheer lack of space and their resulting sprawl.
The enhancements for play-by-play coaching will most directly affect Harvard’s catchers, who, due to the current positioning of the dugouts, cannot look to the bench for pitch calls during the game since the umpire stands between the catcher’s box and Walsh’s seat in the dugout.
“The catcher would have to turn all the way around [to receive the sign] and the umpire’d be in the way,” Walsh said. “I was never able to sit in the dugout in my nine years to be in sight of the catcher. I’d have to be up the line a bit.”
But not all of Walsh’s requests for the new facilities could be accommodated. Due to the water table below Allston, the new dugouts will not have the drop off commonly associated with their design.
“I was going to bat for the step-down dugouts—I didn’t need one of the 12-foot step downs, just one or two steps,” Walsh said. “But they had some engineers take a look at it, and they said that the water table was too close.”
“It’s called sinking,” Harvard softball coach Jenny Allard added. “They can’t sink the dugout because the land is too low already so we could have some flooding issues.”
While Allard’s squad is not pressed to squeeze into its seating, the softball dugouts will also be updated. According to Allard, the more important change is not in the dugouts’ reconstruction but their location, which she hopes will leave open possible enhancements in the future.
“With softball, they’re looking at possibly of landscaping to shift the field so that five years down the road when they look to put in more permanent stands they have the place to do it,” Allard said. “The dugouts need to be done, no question, but I asked, for long-term [planning], to have [Soldiers Field] become a great venue to come watch. If Allston planning happens and you have housing down there, you might draw more students to games and we have very limited seating there right now.”
Currently, the field’s alignment relative to an access road behind home plate prevents the addition of extra stands.
Improvement plans for O’Donnell Field also look to enhance the experience for fans, while refining playing conditions.
While the current bleachers are removed from the field and the view from behind home plate is obscured, a new backstop and the elimination of some foul territory will bring spectators much closer to the action.
The outfield walls will also be raised from three to four feet, according to Walsh, while new turf will be added to the heavily-trafficked area around home plate to ensure it does not become too worn during the year.
Walsh also dismissed speculation that the improvements to the baseball field were delayed while matching funds were sought for the softball field in accordance with Title IX, which mandates comparable expenditures for male and female athletics.
“[Director of Athletics] Bob Scalise has been fighting for this for awhile, as had [former Director of Athletics] Bill Cleary,” Walsh said. “Both softball and baseball have been looking for some improvements. It really doesn’t have anything to do with Title IX. If it does, it’s so far up the ladder that I don’t know about it.”
“There’s so many things around here and with 41 varsity sport teams we’re always trying to get something and our turn came up.”
Scalise did not return phone calls seeking comment.
—Staff writer Timothy J. McGinn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.