Sept. 27, 2017
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CHARLOTTESVILLE -- From the luxury suite that doubles as his office, University of Virginia head baseball coach Brian O'Connor looks out on Davenport Field each day and surveys the stadium's ongoing transformation.
He's grown accustomed to the sights and sounds of construction, which began in June, but O'Connor knows the finished product will be something to behold.
"I am so excited to walk up that new grand entrance in the right-field corner for the first time and look out on this field from that vantage point," said O'Connor, who's heading into his 15th season at UVA. "I think it's going to be something that nobody ever expected."
Construction began soon after the Cavaliers' 2017 season ended. The project is scheduled to be completed before the Wahoos' 2018 home opener, Feb. 20 against VMI.
Much work remains to be done before that game. But the construction won't keep the Cavaliers away from Davenport Field this fall. The team practices there every day, and the `Hoos will play their Oct. 12 exhibition game against the Ontario Blue Jays, and then their annual Orange & Blue World Series, on their home field, too.
"I'm looking forward to our fans coming out here for our first game this fall, so they can start to get a visual of what this is going to look like," O'Connor said.
Even as construction continues, he said, "You can come up here and see how massive this expansion is and begin to visualize what it will look like when completed. It's fun for the players. It's fun for the coaches, primarily because you know that this construction means that good things have been done in the past, and there's excitement for the future."
With four commitments of $1 million or more, fundraising has progressed well, but there is more to do on that front. Initial cost projections for the project were $12 million to $18 million.
As the project has progressed, design decisions have been made to include as much as possible in the initial construction phase, which has resulted in a final project close to $18 million. Fundraising will continue through the final stages of construction.
"I have been in numerous design and construction meetings as this project has developed," O'Connor said. "There is still a lot of fundraising required to bring this stadium project to closure, and it will be well worth it for our fans and our program once it is completed."
The Davenport Field renovations are among several projects currently under way in the athletics department's All In For Excellence fundraising initiative.
"The baseball program is a perfect example of what can happen when you combine outstanding leadership in a coaching staff, a vision for how to execute a plan, and donors who get behind a program to provide the resources for sustained growth," said UVA director of athletics Craig Littlepage.
Under O'Connor, the `Hoos have posted a 639-239-2 record, with four trips to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb. Virginia was NCAA runner-up in 2014. A year later, the Cavaliers won the program's first NCAA title.
"We've had an explosion here over the years of fan support, donor support, and people wanting quality season tickets in this stadium, and this project is delivering it," O'Connor said. "It's going to deliver an unbelievable game-day experience."
The project's features that will enhance the spectator experience include:
* A new entrance to the stadium in right field.
* An expanded concourse down the right-field line that will extend around the right-field pole toward the scoreboard in right-center field.
* A field-level club area on the first-base side, with permanent seats and a lounge area.
* Chairback seats along the first-base line, with a new bullpen for the Cavaliers near the right-field line.
* Expanded bleachers in left field, which will add to the general-admission seating capacity.
* New restrooms, concession stands and merchandise stands.
* Improvements to the road leading to stadium and its parking areas.
"Ninety percent of this project is for our fans," O'Connor said. "We have this group of fans who have been so loyal to this program for many years.
"We're now giving so many more people an opportunity to sit in a chairback seat, giving them an opportunity to use a quality restroom and eat at quality concession stands. This concourse, I think, is really going to bring the fans together and make it a great fan experience in this ballpark."
Another significant change at Davenport Field: After using the third-base dugout for O'Connor's first 14 seasons, the Cavaliers are moving to the first-base dugout. This move will give the team direct access to the home bullpen and the coaches' new offices.
"We're going to have a brand-new bullpen behind the right-field wall that is going to be best for our pitchers' development," O'Connor said.
"It's going to have more space than we have in our current bullpen, and so I felt like this is the right move for us. And if you look at baseball stadiums across the country, it's kind of 50/50 as to what dugout the home team is in. There's really no protocol."
The project also includes a player development center along the first-base line and an office complex for the Cavaliers' coaches. Currently, the coaches are spread out among the luxury suites at Davenport Field, which makes face-to-face communication challenging.
Davenport Field's capacity last season was 5,025. That is likely to increase slightly for 2018, and the quality of all seats will improve significantly.
Fall ball will conclude Nov. 5 for the Cavaliers with Game 7 of the Orange & Blue World Series. The `Hoos are coming off a season in which they finished 43-16 after playing in the NCAA tournament's Fort Worth regional.
When the Cavaliers take the field next season for the Feb. 20 game against VMI, they'll do so in one of college baseball's most impressive venues.
"It's going to immediately enhance and make a huge difference in our fans' experience in the ballpark, which then is going to impact recruiting and the players' experience playing in the stadium," O'Connor said.
"We're competing, year in and year out, at the very highest level of college baseball, and this keeps us right there. I think it's going to show the players and the recruits that we're really, really serious about what's going on in our baseball program. We view our baseball program as a very, very important part of this athletic department and this university."
Season tickets go on sale Oct. 16 for 2017 season-ticket holders, 2017 donors to the Virginia Athletics Foundation, and fans who were on the waiting list for season tickets in 2017.
For new customers, season tickets will go on sale Dec. 4.
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A 1985 graduate of UVA, White worked at the Richmond Times-Dispatch until July 2009. He was honored six times as the state's Sportswriter of the Year.
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