The future success of the UMass baseball program may depend on how well it reconnects with the past.
Athletic director John McCutcheon ('78), associates Garrett Waller and Tim Kenney and baseball coach Mike Stone are behind an ambitious plan to privately fund additional scholarships and construct a new baseball diamond.
The plan would create an alumni-funded endowment financed by former players such as catcher Phil LeBlanc (1983) of Andover, who spearheads the effort.
"I think it will happen because baseball players, fellow alums and opinion leaders will look back at their memories of UMass," LeBlanc said. "One of the reasons I got involved was the impact it had on my life.
"What do I want to do with my time? What do I want to do with my dollars? When I look back at my teammates and the friendships I developed playing baseball, it's a natural that I want to get back involved with the UMass program."
Replacing Earl Lorden Field with a new facility is the overriding priority, and private financing is the best option. Lorden Field once stood alone on open meadow on the northwest fringe of the campus. But it now looks out of place nestled between the new physical plant and the Mullins Center.
Stone believes UMass must upgrade to a new stadium before he can attract top prospects to Amherst.
"The main thing is an improved field facility with a field turf surface, new stands, press box and fence," Stone said. "You have to have a desirable place to play that the kids want to come to and play at.
"The scholarships are the other issue, but UMass is relatively affordable compared to other places and if we had a great place to play that would be tremendous."
UMass is fully funding nationally competitive programs in football, basketball and hockey, which drains reserves that would trickle down to other sports. Stone must maintain a competitive program in the Atlantic 10, a conference that features universities from the South and Midwest that don't have hockey programs. Stone currently subdivides 2.3 scholarships per class that he hopes, through the baseball endowment, will increase to seven.
Tapping former athletes to help fund programs is a concept McCutcheon has worked hard to foster at UMass. The men's track team began building a scholarship endowment two years ago for coach Ken O'Brien, while the lacrosse alumni raised money to build additional stands at Garber Field.
Unlike the track endowment that is strictly a grassroots effort, LeBlanc hopes to find A-list donors to supplement alumni donations. LeBlanc co-chairs a fund-raising committee that includes Red Sox vice president Dick Bresciani, former Red Sox catcher Rich Gedman (whose sons Matt and Mike currently play for the Minutemen), business leaders Ned Dubilo, Gene Miller and Dusty Rhodes and UMass associates Steve McKelvey and Paul "Lefty" Wennick.
"When you look at the history of UMass baseball and what it's meant to business leaders and opinion makers and entrepreneurs in the New England region, they will step up and help in the mission," LeBlanc said. "There are lots of great organizations and people that will make it happen."
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