By Shawn McFarland
Before there was a brand new baseball field nestled in the corner of campus, behind the Harold C. Smith Learning Commons and just close enough to Blake Hall where a power-hitting righty could launch a ball into its parking lot, there was a lunch in Alexandria, Va.
It was a prestigious group grabbing a bite to eat, headlined by Springfield College President Mary-Beth Cooper, Springfield College trustee and former Pride baseball player Kurt Aschermann, and Charles Brady – the Vice President of Strategic Initiatives with the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation.
Cooper made it clear; she wanted Berry-Allen Field to receive a facelift. More importantly, she wanted the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation to be heavily involved.
“Chuck, we’re going to do this with or without you,” Cooper stated at lunch, as Aschermann recalled.
Thankfully, it never came down to that.
Months later, with Brady sitting front row, Cooper, Aschermann, and Baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. all helped dedicate Archie Allen Field on Thursday morning.
For the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, the new Archie Allen Field marks the 70th park it had a hand in constructing. But the Pride’s new field, or youth development park, as the foundation calls it, is labeled as ‘The Springfield Model,’ and is unique in the sense that it’s the first college field the foundation has done, and the first field in all of college with an adaptive field right on the diamond. Ripken Jr. and the foundation donated $300,000 to the construction.
The ability field has already been put to use this fall, with the Miracle League having played a game this past weekend. It has been designed to give every player of all ages and all abilities a chance to play baseball.
Brady put it best. Come this spring, there will be a bevy of firsts on Archie Allen Field – the first hit on the new field, the first home run on the field and of course, the first win on the field. But in deep right field, more firsts are waiting to happen. For those who’ll be playing on the adaptive field, it could be their first time ever suiting up to play America’s Pastime, or it could be the first time they have the chance to be a part of a team.
“This field is great,” Brady said, referencing the full-sized diamond. He then turned his attention back to the adaptive field. “This field is better.”
Springfield’s new feature in right field is truly fitting, given the baseball team’s history. In addition to once having a Team IMPACT participant, it was one of the only programs in the nation with a female coach in Justine Siegeal, and once included a 58-year-old knuckleballer on its junior varsity squad, Larry Hasenfus.
“It was the right thing to do,” Cooper said, in regards to the ability field.
Cooper added, “When you hear the expression ‘Let’s play ball,’ everyone should be excited to play ball.”
It works well that Springfield College is home to the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation’s first collegiate field. Ripken Jr. cited his father’s legacy as someone who wanted to help kids – he did so in his work as a minor league baseball manager. Ripken Sr. spent his Saturdays working clinics with underprivileged youths who wanted a chance to play baseball. That generosity wore off on the younger Cal, who chose to use his platform with purpose and intention.
“Youth development parks are outdoor classrooms,” Ripken Jr. said. “Dad really was a teacher at heart. He really cared about the whole picture, not just what happens on the baseball field. We’re really excited about this model. This model really took some vision, because a college can be an asset to any community.”
Ripken Jr. added that they never really “made the connection” between their youth development parks and colleges and universities until Springfield. He hopes that this model can help pave the way for more partnerships between the foundation and other schools in the future.
Naturally, Springfield College’s ‘Spirit, Body and Mind’ mission statement was referenced during the dedication. Ripken Jr. was quick to relate the phrase back to his father.
“I always saw my dad as a teacher, a teacher of life,” Ripken Jr. said. “When you think about what happens in a university and inside classrooms, there’s a certain development that takes place. There’s an added development when you’re out here in [an athletic] environment. I thought dad always got that. When we got into helping kids, we realized that we needed safe places for them to play. It’s a chance for them to grow, learn and play the game the right way.”
It was a day of pride not just for those who worked and campaigned tirelessly for the completion of the project, but for those who will soon be able to step foot onto the diamond. The Springfield College baseball team lined up adjacent to the stage in shallow right field, each player and coach in full uniform.
The athletes stood attentively, clinging to each of Ripken Jr.’s words, as the 19-time All-Star and Hall of Famer discussed the mission and goals of the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation. The 6-foot-4 Ripken Jr. commanded the audience, as a hush fell over the previously-excited crowd.
“I felt proud to be wearing the SC uniform next to my teammates and show Ripken what we are all about. He definitely blessed the field with his presence,” said senior pitcher Jack Weinberger, who assisted Ripken Jr. in the cutting of the ribbon. “I won’t be surprised if that good luck shows in the amount of runs we score on that field this year.”
Pride baseball coach Mark Simeone put it simply, according to Aschermann. He said, “Recruiting is hard when the field is not in great shape.”
But on Thursday, underneath unusually favorable late-October weather, with baseball royalty – from a former All-Star to a host of alumni – populating one of the newest and most unique fields in all of college baseball, it became apparent that Archie Allen Field would be the last thing Simeone needed to fret about.
Springfield College baseball has yet to step foot on its new home, but this much is clear: that conversation over lunch in Virginia, from more than a year ago, has already begun to pay dividends.