Jackie Robinson Stadium just falls further and further behind and the Morgan Center knows it. They just won't admit it.
At some point, UCLA is either going to get the message through its skulls or they're going to give up the charade. Until then, the baseball program is stuck with more small renovations to Jackie Robinson Stadium, trumped up by the Morgan Center as massive achievements, while programs around the conference and country that already had facilities superior to UCLA's take steps to improve that the Bruins can only dream of. This year is no different either as minor, overdue renovations have been made and then touted as major while everyone else just snickers and laughs at UCLA, simultaneously saying a little prayer of thanks as they know what can become of a Bruin program with proper support.
Over the winter, UCLA got a few renovations to their 31-year-old stadium. The most visible renovation saw the two grass berms above the dugouts ripped out and replaced by seats that adds a total of 580 chairback seats to the stadium and brings its total capacity to 1,820. Maybe an even more important renovation came in the clubhouse though, where a wall was knocked down and the old lockers were ripped out and replaced with new wood lockers, while turf was put in on the floor of the clubhouse with a big, blue UCLA baseball logo painted in the center.
The renovations were badly needed and there's no getting around that. Jackie Robinson Stadium's capacity was insufficient and the old clubhouse was an embarrassment so credit to UCLA for acknowledging where their facilities needed upgrading, but here's the real issue. UCLA recognized these problems with the stadium years ago.
Four years ago they started work to increase seating with seats over the dugout, but that plan stalled for a year, then another year, then another and another. Years ago they also recognized the need for a new clubhouse, with visions of building an entire new building with a new clubhouse, training room, lounge and all of the other amenities that have become the norm around the country. Obviously, that never happened.
More seating and clubhouse renovations were a priority and that UCLA got addressed is a plus, but they were a priority years ago. Getting them done years too late and not on a scale that makes them equally as good as the other top programs in just the Pac-12, let alone the country, is not a reason for celebration.
It can't be said enough just how behind Jackie Robinson Stadium is with the rest of the conference and country. Even with the extra seats, the capacity still isn't anything to write home about because the seats replaced grass berms where people used to sit (and were very popular so it's a knock against the game day experience) and part of that capacity is made possible by a dirty, rickety old bleacher above the third base line. The concessions and restroom facilities were insufficient for the capacity as is and the press box is still so small that it is nearly non-existant for the press, let alone the fact that it is unable to handle two radio teams and a TV team for the Regionals. The scoreboard is still too small, difficult to read at night and lacks video. The clubhouse is better, but it doesn't compare to the top places around the Pac-12 and the entire facility lacks all of the amenities and niceties that wow recruits and make patrons feel like they're watching something that matters.
Run down that list of deficiencies and try to say with a straight face that minimal and late renovations, even if they were needed, are a major step forward? Now take a look at what else is happening around the Pac-12 and west coast.
This offseason, Arizona St. announced that they would be moving into a new $84 million complex in Mesa, which they will share with the Cubs for spring training. The decision was made because moving there, with Mesa chipping most of the money, would be cheaper than renovating their current stadium, which they estimated would cost $20-25 million.
Additionally, Arizona announced plans to leave their on-campus stadium and move to Hi-Corbett Field, the former spring training home of the Indians and the Rockies as recently as 2010. The Wildcats took a blow in moving off campus, but they did it to a stadium with a 9,500 seat capacity and one that was MLB quality just two years ago, then they spent another $5 million in the offseason to make further upgrades.
A jaunt to Seattle further embarrasses UCLA. Up there, Washington has broken ground on a $15 million renovation that will see an entire new building built, complete with new clubhouse, player's lounge, coaches' offices and team meeting room, as well as a club suite. A new 2,500 seat grandstand, press box, six suites, two party decks, concession and restroom facilities and team shop are due to follow. That is otherwise known as a brand new facility, addressing everything that also happens to be deficient at Jackie Robinson Stadium.
Do you think the idea of a $20-25 million renovation to Jackie Robinson Stadium has ever crossed the minds of those at UCLA because it did at Arizona St. Can you imagine UCLA getting a MLB spring training quality stadium then chipping in another $5 million? There's no chance they would do either. Getting $5 million for Jackie Robinson Stadium has proved to be nearly impossible at a time when Washington is getting $15 million, but when an overdue minor improvement to a stadium begging for a major overhaul is done, UCLA wants to tout it as a big deal.
The stadium race isn't limited to the Pac-12 either. Just down the road at the University of San Diego, the Toreros announced plans for a $30 million improvement to their sports facilities, the centerpiece being a $13 million overhaul to their baseball stadium. It comes complete with Spanish Renaissance arches to match the rest of the campus, a new clubhouse, player's lounge and coaches office that look out over the stadium, all designed by the top sports facility designed firm in the country, Populous.
Even the Toreros are besting the Bruins, joining their neighbors San Diego St., the Arizona schools, USC, Stanford, the Oregon schools and Washington as the short list of teams with facilities that put what the Bruins have to shame.
UCLA basically needs a new stadium. Call it a renovation if you'd like, but if the Bruins want to have a top-notch facility then everything at the stadium needs to be completely rebuilt, with the hitting facility being the lone exception and the Morgan Center know it. The problem is they don't want top-notch or even good. They are content with one step above embarrassing, which is what they have and what they keep reaching for every time they put in new lockers, replace the netting or give the place a new paint job.
For the next 10 years we are going to hear about this winter's renovations, the same way UCLA still touts the new netting they put in five years ago. At the same time, its competitors are blazing ahead with millions of dollars and thousands of seats and perks, while the Morgan Center still wants us to believe they care and are committed to excellence. Sorry, but that's a lie. They know what excellent is. They see it all over the conference and up and down the coast and new lockers are not it.