Hosting Red Sox Summer Camp Shows Growth Of Boston College's Facilities
As recently as four years ago, Boston College’s baseball facilities were as far from major league as any school in the ACC, and arguably of any school in a major conference. The Eagles played at Shea Field, one of oldest athletic facilities on campus. It had no bells and whistles and only a couple batting cages.
Shea Field was also next door to Alumni Stadium, the football team’s home. During the fall, it doubled as a tailgate lot for football games. A full-season parking pass cost as much as $5,000.
Because of its dual use, the baseball team had to make certain accommodations. The outfield fence was temporary. Any rain on a football weekend rendered the field unusable for baseball for a week. Portable toilets were brought in before every football game.
“Four years ago, the first joke anybody made about our program was, ‘Don’t you play in a parking lot?’” coach Mike Gambino said. “It was kind of hard to argue.”
No one is making that joke today. BC in 2018 opened Pellagrini Diamond in the Harrington Athletics Village, giving the program a beautiful new home. Construction is nearing completion on the Pete Frates Center, which is phase two of the project. The Frates Center, named for the late BC captain who became a leading advocate of ALS awareness and fundraising through the Ice Bucket Challenge after his own diagnosis in 2012, includes an indoor training facility, a weight room and locker rooms for both baseball and softball.
It has been a complete turnaround for BC’s facilities. And while the Eagles have called Pellagrini Diamond home for two years, the new digs this summer got a significant endorsement.
When the Red Sox began preparations to hold summer camp in Boston, the first time since 1943 that the team held its preseason training in Massachusetts, they were looking for an auxiliary site in addition to Fenway Park. While the team will use Triple-A Pawtucket as the in-season home for its taxi squad, it wanted a closer secondary site during summer camp so that players could more easily be shuttled back and forth.
The Red Sox identified BC as a possible location for the auxiliary site and soon farm director Ben Crockett, general manager Chaim Bloom and president Sam Kennedy were all talking with Gambino. After giving the team a couple tours of the facility, Gambino left the final talks up to the executives.
“I said to them I’ll do what I can to help but this isn’t my decision in a time like this,” Gambino said. “This is for Sam Kennedy, (BC president Father William) Leahy, the mayor.”
Ultimately, team and the school were able to reach an arrangement and some members of the organization on July 4 began training at Pellagrini Diamond.
“They’ve been terrific even considering our request to try and go up there as part of spring training,” Kennedy told reporters last month. “We have a long-term relationship with Father Leahy and coach Gambino.”
During summer camp, the Red Sox primarily used the field for their pitchers’ work outs and their taxi squad.
“They did PFP, they did BP, they didn’t scrimmage, but it was a secondary site,” Gambino said. “The reviews we got of it were awesome.”
BC is one of a few colleges that got called on to be secondary sites for summer camp. The Astros trained at Houston’s Schroeder Park, where the Cougars also recently opened an impressive new baseball training facility. The Angels (Long Beach State), Dodgers (Southern California) and Rockies (Metro State) all used local college facilities as well.
Every college that got selected as an auxiliary site for summer camp can rightfully feel pride that an MLB team chose to send its players there. Like BC, Long Beach and Houston both recently made significant investments – Houston building a state-of-the-art training facility and Long Beach renovating Blair Field and constructing an expansive hitting facility.
But Long Beach, Houston and USC have all hosted NCAA Tournament games at their stadiums. Blair Field and Dedeaux Field are two of the more storied venues in college baseball. BC, meanwhile, was just a few years ago still playing its games on a field that doubled in the fall as a tailgating lot.
Gambino has been the head coach at his alma mater for the last decade. In that time, BC reached super regionals and has produced seven big leaguers. That success largely came while playing with subpar facilities.
“I’ve had multiple coaches in our league say something to the effect of, ‘You should never win a game with the facilities you have,’” Gambino said. “Multiple coaches say that in some way, shape or form. But the fact is in three of the last four years, we made ACC Tournament.”
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As the MLB season begins this week, the Red Sox are moving their secondary training site to McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket. While the big leaguers are moving on, the future is bright for the Eagles.
BC next year has a trio of players with a real chance to be drafted in at least the top 50 picks, if not the first round. Outfielder Sal Frelick is the class’ standout and could go as high as the top 10. Righthander Mason Pelio has a strong pedigree and last year was a part of USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team. He touched 99 mph in a bullpen this spring during the shutdown. Infielder Cody Morrissette has a strong track record as a hitter and last summer impressed in the Cape Cod League.
That class of players committed to BC before the new stadium. Now, once the Frates Center opens this fall, BC will have the best facilities in the Northeast and have caught up in the ACC arms race. The improvement hasn’t gone unnoticed, especially following the Red Sox holding summer camp at Pellegrini Field.
For everyone associated with the Eagles, it is a remarkable sign of growth for the program.
“The idea that we can practice when we need to practice and do what we need to do, we’re still getting used to that,” Gambino said.