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March 23, 2011
This feature will appear in the inaugural program of Nittany Lion Softball Park.
By Jeremy S. Fallis, PSU Athletic Communications
When important dates in Penn State softball history are recounted, some will point to Apr. 27, 1965 when the Nittany Lions played their first game or May 18, 2000 when PSU won its first NCAA Tournament game. For head coach Robin Petrini, it's probably Mar. 28, 2010, when the first shovel full of dirt went flying and the project to build Nittany Lion Softball Park commenced.
"Fifteen years," Penn State's winningest coach repeated before Tuesday's practice, the first on newly minted Beard Field.
Fifteen long years for Petrini and the hundreds of student-athletes that toiled their trade at old Nittany Lion Field, an inadequate home for a Big Ten program, let alone one that made seven trips to the NCAA Tournament this past decade.
Just four days shy of a year from when construction began at the $10.2 million complex, Petrini and her charges finally have their own field of dreams.
"I'm really excited to see how [the student-athletes] react," Petrini added. "Because they've waited a long time, too. Coach [Jen McIntyre] said that last week, the outfielders, when she took them out there, literally laid on the grass and rolled on it. They were so excited, they jumped into the walls and bounced into the walls, so I'm really excited to see how excited they are."
The process began many years ago, but the project truly sprang to life on Oct. 9, 2009 when Penn State received the lead gift from Lee and Bill Beard of $500,000. The gift earned the steadfastly loyal Beards naming ownership of the complex's playing surface, Beard Field.
"We are pleased to help support the Penn State softball program," Bill and Lee Beard said on the day their pledge became official. "This softball field and the stadium are important parts of this program being attractive to young women who can benefit from being Penn State student-athletes."
The final approval had to come from the Penn State Board of Trustees, which happened on Mar. 19, 2010. Eight days later, construction crews were on site and the earth was being moved, setting the stage for an exciting 2011 season where Penn State will host 16 games in the new ballpark. As for when visiting teams come to Happy Valley, the experience of playing in a top-notch facility should prove to be a true home-field advantage.
"I think [other teams] will be in awe when they come here," Petrini noted. "When we went to Michigan last year, we were kind of like `Wow, this is pretty nice.' When we went to Georgia, the kids were saying the same thing. The locker room was attached directly to the dugout they thought that was pretty cool."
While Petrini waited 15 years for Nittany Lion Softball Park to become a reality, redshirt-senior Jackie Hill spent over four years at Penn State in wait. Now that the wait is over, it makes moving forward with the season that much easier.
"It comes at a really great time," Hill gushed. "We're getting ready for Big Tens and we're about halfway through the season. Our season is long and we get tired, but this brings a whole new energy and we're excited to be out here and playing."
Now that Nittany Lion Softball Park's inaugural season is upon the Penn State team, the challenges start. First up will be Big Ten foe Wisconsin (15-9) visiting University Park on Saturday. Part of the 16-game schedule features a primetime, nationally televised broadcast of the Michigan doubleheader on Apr. 20. That Wednesday night doubleheader starts at 5:30 p.m. and welcomes the fourth-ranked Wolverines into a ballpark that rivals their own.
"It gives us a better sense of legitimacy," added Hill. "Feeling more like we're a big-time program and more like we're the real deal instead of playing on our old field, which wasn't up to par. It's really great because before everything was in different spots. Now, I'm able to get ready, get focused here at the same place. We get to park at our own facility, it's just great, it's so nice to have a place to call our own."
Beard Field. Nittany Lion Softball Park. Penn State softball has its own home, sweet home that it can be proud of.