Friday, April 18, 2014

For the love of the game

Ballgame — The first home game of the season kicks off at the newly-built stadium, where Liberty beat Penn State in front of a crowd of 2,565. Photo credit: Ruth Bibby

One could not help but to think that the sight of the new Liberty Baseball Stadium filled with fans of all ages was a dream of the late Dr. Jerry Falwell brought to life.

Among a flurry of other projects, including academic and residential buildings, construction workers feverishly work on a new state-of-the-art baseball stadium overlooking the mountains on the north end of campus.

While time did not afford crews the opportunity to complete the venue, the 2,500 chair-back seats and Astroturf playing surface were ready for a new chapter in Liberty baseball this weekend, Feb. 23-24, when the Flames played their first home series of the season against Penn State.

Even though the Liberty Baseball Stadium lacked many of the amenities that will eventually be available when the $8 million project is complete, 2,565 excited fans came out to pack the home opener Saturday, Feb. 23.

Chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr. threw out the first pitch to open the new stadium. It was his idea to build a new one rather than renovate Worthington Field.

“The idea hit me one day that our baseball stadium should not be down in a ravine hidden from view, so I started sketching out a field in the area between Green Hall and Williams Stadium and was pleased that it fit,” Falwell said. “This site is highly visible to the public, and it provides beautiful views of Liberty Mountain and the Blue Ridge Mountains from the stands. I believe that the new stadium will play a pivotal role in moving our baseball program to national prominence.”

After throwing the first official pitch, Falwell said he may have missed his calling in professional baseball. When he returned to the stands, one of the major league baseball scouts attending the game told Falwell that he clocked the pitch
at 86 MPH.

“I felt pretty good for a few minutes until I realized he was only joking,” Falwell said.

Players and coaches alike are excited to see how the new facility can help bring merit to the program in the near future.

“It’s going to be awesome for recruiting,” Head Coach Jim Toman said. “We’re just really blessed at Liberty to have an administration that
wants to win.”

It was no secret that the late Dr. Falwell shared the same love for sports as he did for his ministries. He knew the power that college athletics at Liberty could have in bringing the Gospel to the multitudes.

One of the late Dr. Falwell’s favorite sports, and one that he excelled in, was baseball. According to an article on NBC.com, Dr. Falwell underwent a religious conversion in 1952 that led him to transfer to Baptist Bible College in Springfield, Mo. instead of accepting an offer to play professional baseball in the St. Louis Cardinals organization.

“Before my conversion, I had several thoughts about what I would do with my life. For awhile, I thought I would like to play professional baseball,” the late Dr. Falwell once said in an interview with the News & Advance. “I loved the game. Playing outfield and hitting the ball meant a great deal to me. I probably was not good enough to make it, but I dreamed about trying anyhow.”

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