Pitt baseball playing for last time at Trees Field
Following some summer league accolades for several players, a walk-on tryout and the fall exhibition season, the Pitt baseball team is looking ahead to its new digs.
The Petersen Sports Complex, nearing completion, will be the new home of Pitt's baseball, softball and soccer programs. At noon today, Pitt will play one last time on storied Trees Field, adjacent to the new complex, when the 2011 Panthers meet a team of former Pitt players in the program's first alumni game.
"I'm looking forward to this thing becoming an annual event," said coach Joe Jordano, who has coached the Panthers for 13 seasons and led them into the national rankings in 2010. "This game will serve as a bridge for the past, present and future."
Some 50 former players are expected to return, including second baseman Jim Negrych, a Pirates farmhand who this year split time with Double-A Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis; outfielder Ben Copeland, who played for Triple-A Fresno in the San Francisco Giants' system; and pitcher Pete Parise, who played for Triple-A Memphis in the St. Louis Cardinals system.
"This is a great way for a lot of us to reconnect," Negrych said. "More and more programs are holding alumni games, and for us to be able to celebrate the program's move into the new facilities is a wonderful thing. Hopefully, it helps with the recruiting and a few more players from the region will stay home and consider Pitt."
Former Pitt pitchers Eric Ackerman and Matt Irvin are the chief organizers.
"It's been a grassroots effort on their part. It started out on a Facebook page," Jordano said. "It's pretty common to have an alumni game, and these guys just felt that by doing this, they could stay connected and help the program gain some more visibility. I've been in touch with my former guys and guys from before that, guys in Bobby Lewis' and Mark Jackson's groups. This is going to be a neat thing."
Lewis, who coached at Pitt for 36 seasons beginning in 1955, produced such notable players as All-Americans George Schoeppner and Fred Mazurek as well as major leaguers Doc Medich and Ken Macha.
Jackson took over in 1991 and got the Panthers into the NCAA Tournament in 1995. Among his notable players were Jason Conti, who last played in the majors in 2004 for the Texas Rangers, and former Big East Player of the Year Josh Tyler, a career minor leaguer.
As for 2011, Pitt returns a strong nucleus from a team that won 38 games last season and reached its highest ranking (No. 18) in the Collegiate Baseball poll and first ranking (No. 24) in Baseball America's poll.
Among the returning players are senior catcher Kevan Smith, who batted .361 in 55 games; senior first baseman David Chester, who batted .332 with 15 home runs and 65 RBI in 53 games; and sophomore Ray Black, a promising, 6-foot-5, 225-pound right-hander.