Pitt antes up on facilities for other university sports

Jerry DiPaola
| Thursday, April 7, 2011

One day in 1996, not long after Steve Pederson was hired as Pitt's athletic director the first time, he walked into Fitzgerald Field House looking to tour his athletic facilities.

There, he found washers and dryers among the baseballs, basketballs and shot puts and wondered where the locker rooms were.

"Here," he was told.

"In these?" he said, referring to rooms in a facility that at the time housed every Pitt athlete, other than the swimmers, divers and football players.

"They washed their own (uniforms)," Pederson recalled. "How does a college kid playing sports have time to wash their clothes every day?"

A decade and a half after Pederson stepped on campus and four years into his second stint as athletic director, Pederson has placed most Pitt athletes in new or renovated facilities. The latest is the $29 million Petersen Sports Complex that opened this year on 12.32 acres at the tip of Pitt's upper campus and includes baseball, softball and soccer stadiums, locker rooms and training facilities.

Each field is lit and covered by FieldTurf, the same surface used by the Tampa Bay Rays, Minnesota Twins and Toronto Blue Jays. Along with his teams' games, Pederson said he hopes to schedule "significant" high school games there in the future.

"I'm envious," said Rich Walsh, a former Pitt track and field athlete who graduated in 1999.

The only Pitt sport still seeking support is track and field, which practices at Carnegie Mellon's track and Fitzgerald Field House and has no home meets. Pederson said an on-campus site for those teams and intramurals -- located near the former baseball and softball fields -- has been chosen, but there is no timetable for groundbreaking.

"That's the last piece of the facility puzzle," he said.

All four teams, including men's and women's soccer, had been playing on substandard fields or off campus for years. Games have been played this season on the new fields, but official openings are scheduled for Saturday (admission is free):

• The women's soccer team will face Canisius in a scrimmage at 11 a.m. on Ambrose Urbanic Field.

• There will be a softball doubleheader against Louisville at noon on Vartabedian Field.

• The baseball team plays Villanova at 1 p.m. on Charles L. Cost Field.

• The men's soccer team will conduct an intrasquad scrimmage at 2 p.m.

Ground for the new fields was chosen in what Pederson referred to as a "blighted" area of Oakland where housing was vacant and in disrepair. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl helped the university purchase the land, and benefactors John and Gertrude Petersen of Erie provided much of the funding. Previously, they had donated $10 million toward construction of Petersen Events Center.

"What I really thought was so wonderful about the Petersens is they can see the vision about what things can become," Pederson said. "We were basically talking to them about a big vacant lot and explaining what we thought this can become. They got it, clearly. This was a corner of our campus that needed tremendous improvement and, of course, the sports needed it as well."

Additional Information:

At a glance

Petersen Sports Complex facts and figures

Land size: 12.32 acres

Seating capacity

Baseball: Charles L. Cost Center, 900

Soccer: Ambrose Urbanic Field, 735

Softball: Vartabedian Field, 600

Baseball field dimensions

Down the lines: 330 feet

Power alleys: 375 feet

Center field: 405 feet

16 feet, height of left-field fence

8 feet, height of remainder of outfield fence

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