The smell of fresh cut grass.
The sound of rawhide meeting aluminum.
Welcome to another season on the diamond.
This year, the Phillies aren’t the only team in town christening a new ballpark. Both the softball and men’s teams are enjoying new fields at Temple’s Ambler campus.
Tentatively named The Ambler Softball Complex and Ambler Field, the two diamonds bring Atlantic Ten competition farther away from the city, and closer to a suburban audience. The new fields should attract high school players and potential recruits. As of now, 29 softball and baseball players are originally from towns less than an hour from Temple Ambler. The new fields are expected to increase that number.
“I think it should help us with recruiting,” baseball coach Skip Wilson said. “I think what it will do will help build the Ambler campus because more kids will go there.”
For years, the softball team played its games at Temple Stadium, a cozy field tucked away in the Mount Airy section of the city. It was there the Owls won a number of titles.
“There’s a lot of memories (at Temple Stadium),” softball coach Rocci Pignoli said. “The neighbors there were always really nice to us and taking care of us.”
While the softball team made its own history at Temple Stadium, their new field was steeped in history even before its first pitch. The entire spectator section at the new complex is comprised of the concrete bowl that made up seating for the Temple Music Festival – an outdoor amphitheater.
Big Band, jazz acts and the Temple Symphony regularly performed at the Temple Music Festival. For several years the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra used it as their summer home. Performances continued until the late 70s when concerts were discontinued. In 1982, a fire destroyed much of the venue. The site lay dormant for more than 20 years when plans for the new complex were proposed.
To construct the field, Temple used outside contractors for most of the work. The remnants of the Music Festival were brought down and combined with clean fill to make for a level playing surface. Truckloads of Kentucky Bluegrass cover each diamond.
A legacy continues…
Just the second home field for Wilson during his 45-year tenure, he takes his squad up Route 309 from Erny Field to Ambler Field. Wilson has fond memories of Erny Field.
“It was the best field in the East,” Wilson said. ” I loved it. I spent 45 years of my life there coaching, and I played there as a boy. Everything was outstanding about it. The only thing that happened was that the neighborhood got so congested and there weren’t enough screens to protect the cars.”
Erny Field and Temple Stadium may have the history, but the new fields have the amenities. Each team now has its own bullpens and batting cages. Gone are the days of outfielders diving through temporary walls. The new fields are surrounded by fencing topped with yellow padded covers, which guard players from injury when tracking down foul balls.
“The other one (Temple Stadium) kind of reminded you of a high school field,” senior softball pitcher Kim Watkins said. “You didn’t feel like you were playing college ball. This one is like a stadium, so the whole atmosphere is a lot better. And not everything is done yet, but in the next two years it’s going to be amazing.”
“It’s a much better field, I can tell you that,” senior baseball outfielder Al Roach added. “As far as the outfield is concerned, it’s a bigger park.”
A common concern among players from both teams has been the need for a breaking-in period of the complex. Unfortunately, rainouts in March and April have plagued the Owls, preventing players from acclimating themselves to the new fields.
“It’s (the outfield) just too hard right now, but it’ll soften out after awhile of playing on it,” freshman Brandie Mora said. “It’s only our fifth game on here, so it’ll get better.”
For the future
The new fields at Ambler have something in common: They are both works in progress.
The Phillies may have a plush new clubhouse, but for now, the Owls will have to share a nest. Two trailers act as temporary dressing rooms for both teams.
“We’re waiting for our locker room and building to be put up,” Pignoli said. We’re hoping that will be put up this year.”
The softball, baseball and both soccer teams will share a building that will house locker rooms for each team. A concession stand is expected to follow shortly. In the meantime, flagpoles and landscaping will be incorporated to improve the already aesthetically pleasing fields. The fields are wired for scoreboards, which are expected to be delivered soon.
Lucas Murray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.