With Morrone Stadium officially demolished, UConn’s new baseball, soccer and softball stadiums in the “Athletics District” of campus will soon turn from just computer renderings to real, physical structures. And that’s music to athletic director David Benedict’s ears.
“The grandstand is down now (at Morrone) and one of the challenges that we’ve had from a fundraising standpoint is so many people have heard for so long that this is going to get done,” Benedict said on the Husky Insider Podcast. “Now I can say it has to get done because we don’t have a stadium any longer for soccer. So we have to build something”
That “something” is going to be a massive upgrade from what UConn has now. Morrone Stadium was one of the top soccer facilities in the nation when it was built but at almost 40 years old, had aged past its prime. Baseball and softball, meanwhile, play on glorified high school fields.
“We’re not trying to build the Taj Mahal but we need nice facilities that are efficient that can put us in a position where we can be on somewhat equal footing with our aspirations and our peers in our conference,” he said.
Construction for the stadiums began back in August with infrastructure work to get the necessary utilities to the new stadiums. Since then, there have been a handful of issues that arose.
The infrastructure work was slowed due to heavy rains in September and October. In addition to that, the soil that all the stadiums sit on has peat in it, which causes issues. In response to the soil issue, the school will build berms near the baseball and softball stadiums that spectators can watch from, according to Michael Schrier, Director of Design and STEM Projects.
Schrier also noted on the podcast that all four fields (the three stadiums plus the practice field) will all be artificial turf, a necessity in the northeast. Men’s soccer had a game against URI cancelled due to rain and the final game ever at Morrone was pushed back a day and needed donor-funded helicopters to dry the field. Baseball and softball frequently deal with games cancelled due to saturated fields and can’t practice outside until all the snow has melted.
With turf, the fields will drain better and can be plowed of snow so teams can practice outside whenever if the weather allows.
Here’s the latest information about each stadium:
In the latest Board of Trustees agenda, they released the latest renderings for the layout of the entire complex.
The only changes from the previous site plan is the orientation of the practice field, which was altered slightly.
The new soccer stadium, which will be called Joseph J. Morrone Stadium at the Rizza Family Soccer Complex, will have a capacity of 4,000 with the ability to add 700 temporary seats if necessary, though the original stadium plans called for a 5,500-seat stadium. The old Morrone Stadium held 5,100.
With the addition of turf, the stadium will also become the home of UConn’s women’s lacrosse team that currently plays at the George J. Sherman Family Complex (the field hockey field) in the spring.
The stadium is expected to be ready in time for the start of the 2020 season, meaning both the Huskies’ soccer teams play off-campus in 2019. The school will announce the official location in the coming weeks, though the new Dillon Stadium appears to be the frontrunner.
No team on campus has out-performed their facilities like Jim Pender’s baseball team has. J.O. Christian Field, despite being the home of UConn baseball since 1968, is hardly more than a high school field with four sets of bleachers, a scoreboard and press box.
The new stadium will move across the street to the location of the current soccer practice field behind Freitas Ice Forum and the site of Morrone Stadium. Since it will be in a new spot, construction doesn’t need to wait for the end of the baseball season in June 2019. Because of this, the new stadium is expected to be ready for the start of the 2020 season.
The new practice field will go at the baseball field’s current site.
It will hold 1,500 (J.O. Christian Field has a capacity of 2,000 but that includes standing-room only), 500 of which will be seat-backs. The initial plans for the project set the capacity at 1,500 seats, thought that number dropped to 1,000 at one point.
The stands will extend from the middle of the first-base dugout to third base. There will also be a berm along the first-base line which fans can watch the game from.
One of the biggest changes will be the addition of lights, something J.O. Christian lacks. This will allow the team to play games on Friday nights instead of the afternoon, potentially making it easier for fans to come to the game.
Burrill Family Field at the Connecticut Softball Complex will stay on its same footprint, but will change its orientation 180 degrees, meaning home plate will be where centerfield currently is. The field’s current orientation creates an issue where the setting sun can be right in a batter’s eye, making it difficult to see.
Currently, there are no formal bullpens for either team, just five small bleachers for seating and a small shed behind the backstop is used as the press box.
The new stadium will have 500 permanent seats behind home plate, 250 of which will be seatbacks, with a press box on top. There will also be a berm behind home plate and up the third base line for fans to watch from. Each team will have a bullpen as well.