The following is my personal analysis of the UCLA baseball program, five years into the tenure of UCLA head baseball coach John Savage. The analysis is based upon both my own observations, what I've been told by trusted sources and most heavily by the interview I did with Coach Savage. You can reread both part one and part two of that interview by clicking on the links provided. My analysis are borne solely out of that and while I did conduct the interview with Coach Savage, my analysis includes nothing that I learned that day that wasn't published. I will post my analysis in several parts, with each taking a look at a different aspect of the program in semi-short takes.
On Tuesday, I posted the first part of my multi-part series analyzing the UCLA baseball program. Part one took a look at the scheduling philosophy the Bruins and Coach Savage specifically have used in recent years. While the schedule induced slow starts have hampered the Bruins' chances at being a #1 seed in a Regional and playing host to the four-team, postseason opening round, the inadequacies of Jackie Robinson Stadium have also hampered the Bruins' efforts.
Coach Savage all but acknowledged that JRS is not a top-notch facility in its current form, but he did applaud the effort of everyone in the program and down at the Morgan Center, not to mention the generosity of Jack and Rhodine Gifford, in working towards making it one. Unfortunately, the plans for the future are woefully inadequate.
The plans for the future of JRS that Coach Savage outlined are consistent with what I've been hearing for a few years now. The inability to pin point any firm plans for exactly what will be done and when it will be done was also consistent with the lax attitude towards JRS and it gives me little to no hope that the facility will ever be one of the better ones in the region. The piece-by-piece plan is alive and well, unfortunately, and the very vague plans are just not good enough.
For starters, the idea that a stadium, like JRS, that had been ignored for 20 years and left to age ungracefully can be renovated piece-by-piece into an upper echelon facility is downright laughable. When JRS was opened, it was a fine facility that fit right in with some of the better facilities in the country. In the next 20 years though, the face of college baseball has changed to the point that some stadiums have suites, club seats and capacities over 10,000. Now, I'm not calling for JRS to have any of those things. The fact is, the support for the baseball program is as pathetic as JRS and stadiums on the West Coast don't compare to those in the south, but there's not reason that the stadium shouldn't be among the better ones in the Pac-10.
The renovations in recent years have included the removal of the bench seating and installation of chair back seats. The old fencing was removed behind home plate and replaced by netting that is in no way obtrusive to watching the ball game. The playing surface was replaced as well, but the replacement was so mismanaged by those in charge that the playing surface is deplorable and $1 million have been wasted. Last offseason, the program received a brand new hitting facility beyond right field, courtesy of the Giffords. To get the facility done though, the Giffords had to fund the entire project and bring in their own men to construct it. While the improvements to JRS over the past several years have been necessary, they fall incredibly short of what needs to be done.
The change to chair back seating is a nice touch and gives the ballpark a sense of comfort. Unfortunately though, there are only just a tick over 1,000 of those seats. Coach Savage has said that they will be putting seats in above each dugout, where there are currently grass hills, but they were going to do that for at least the last two offseasons now so I'll believe it when I see it. Once those seats are in though, capacity will still not touch 2,000, the number that gives the NCAA Selection Committee some comfort when searching for Regional hosts and keeps teams from having to overachieve to host. Once those seats are in, there will be no more grass hills are open spaces anywhere in the stadium. Grass hills can be found in dozens of ballparks around the country and for good reason. They provide students a place to relax and hang out, a place for parents to bring their kids to play and also, the ability to pack more people into a stadium for an increased capacity during the postseason when it's necessary. JRS will not have that if/when the seats go in above the dugout.
In addition to an increased capacity, Coach Savage also made mention of the fact that the stadium needs more concessions and restrooms. While there has been talk of getting that done, there aren't concrete plans to do it despite the fact that the current set up doesn't even provide the necessary service for the stadium with the capacity as is. One more thing that Coach Savage mentioned as something that needs to be done is to build a real press box. Currently, there is a press box, but it provides one booth for the UCLA online radio announcers, a booth for game operations and a booth for video that the team uses for film study. That's it. There is no press box for, well the press. If the game is on TV, the UCLA online radio announcers are kicked outside to a table set up with a tent over it. That table with a tent set up is the only thing available to the visiting team's radio announcers. The current plan is to make the press box a double deck press box, but similar things have been done in other stadiums and it's unsightly. It also causes a lot of separation, making it less than efficient for communication. Also, as is the case with just about all of the "plans," there is no timeline and definite plan to get the press box done.
The biggest thing on Coach Savage's mind appears to be a new clubhouse and boy do they need it. The current clubhouse is small, doesn't provide auxillary rooms, is less than luxurious, doesn't have adequate team rooms or film rooms and the weight room is a small shed in back. Coach Savage would like to build a new clubhouse along the right field line, just by the entrance to the ballpark. Again, there is no time line or plan for this. In fact, Coach Savage made mention of the fact that he would like to meet with an architect, leading me to believe that he's yet to do so. That sounds to me like getting going on that project is at least a couple years down the road. Once that facility is complete the old clubhouse would be converted into a clubhouse for visiting teams. Now, the $20 and $30 million palaces to college baseball that are going up in the southeast are choosing not to put visiting clubhouses in because they're underused and a waste of space for the use they get so why exactly is UCLA going to have one?
The smaller things that need to get done is a new fence with padding. While not all college programs have padding on their fences, it would be best if UCLA had it put in to do their best to protect the players. The dugouts need to be improved too, making them longer, bigger and set up better to make them more comfortable and useful. A new scoreboard and sound system would be a good investment too. The sound system is poor, either really loud by home plate or not easy to hear farther down the lines, while the scoreboard is hard to read at night, doesn't provide enough information and doesn't have a video board, which many schools now have.
While a top notch facility is what the Bruins should be aiming for, a nice first step would be to make it capable of hosting a Regional. UCLA currently claims it can host a Regional, but to do so they would have to spend a lot of money to bring in temporary equipment and even then, it would be a poorly hosted Regional. To make it a quality Regional host, there are four things that need to be done:
- Increased capacity. While it won't take 2,000 for the Bruins to host, that's what the stadium should have so UCLA doesn't need to overachieve and force the NCAA Selection Committee's hand into hosting.
- An actual press box. The current plan would have tables set up above the seats doesn the third base line for the press. That's an awful plan that would provide the media a terrible working environment.
- Increased concessions and restrooms to handle the current capacity, plus more to handle the increased capacity necessary to host.
- Auxillary rooms so the teams in the Regional have space for their things and also for the press conferences, storage, etc.
That would just allow the Bruins to be able to skate by as a Regional host. That doesn't make it a good stadium or one that could host easily. Even with these things it would take some work.
So that's the state of JRS right now. Honestly, it's embarrassing at times to have the name of such a great man attached to such a poor place. The common theme in all of this is a vague idea of plans, if you can call them that, without any ambition or a concrete plan of action. As poor as JRS is, the attitude of those working on the renovations are worse. When I push for a description of what will actually be done and when it will be done, nobody can provide me with anything because there isn't. In additio, the piece-by-piece renovation is a farce that will keep the Bruins always playing catch up. When a stadium has been ignored for as long as JRS had been ignored, it takes a complete overhaul to bring it back up to par. UCLA needs to begin a fundraising campaign for a multi-million dollar overhaul of JRS just to bring it back to mediocrity. Actual plans would be a start, but there needs to be quality plans to go with it. Right now there is neither and until there is, the stadium will languish as one of the Pac-10's worst.