Here is my weekly column in the Buchtelite about how much the new stadium will help the softball team, and how much it already has...
What college coach wouldn't want to play at the same stadium as a defending world champion professional team?
Julie Wright, for one.
Akron's softball coach is thrilled at the opportunity to move away from Firestone Stadium, which is home to the Akron Racers, the 2005 National Pro Fastpitch Champions.
"It was an excellent facility, but it wasn't ours," said Wright, who is in her second year at Akron.
Firestone Stadium is located on Firestone Parkway, about a 10-minute drive from campus. Players say the off-campus location hurt attendance.
"The only people who came were our friends," senior second baseman Sara Zilles said.
The team hopes that will change on Wednesday when the Zips play their first game at their new on-campus stadium, which is next to the Rec Center.
"Just having the field on campus is going to attract more people who are walking to class and may stop by to watch a few innings," Zilles said.
The Zips are tied for first place in the Mid-American Conference East Division at 6-2. Akron's overall record is a deceptive 15-15. The Zips have beaten two of the nation's strongest teams, Notre Dame and Oregon. They also lost by only one run at No. 8 Oregon State.
Wright gives a lot of the credit to her outstanding freshman class. Four are everyday players.
Akron opened this season with 30 road games. Despite not playing an inning at the new field, the Zips have already felt advantages of having a new home. When recruiting last fall, Wright was able to tell freshmen they would play in a new on-campus stadium.
"Excitement like that really said something to kids and their families," Wright said.
The Athletics Field House also helped in attracting top talent to play softball at Akron, Wright said. Inside the field house, infielders can take grounders, pitchers can throw and position players can hit batting practice. The facility even allows the Zips to hold scrimmages, snow or no snow.
The athletic department also gave the team a new locker room in Rhodes Arena. These improvements have created a buzz in softball circles across the nation, Wright said.
"It's been talked about quite a bit in my field," Wright said. "Akron is backing its athletics."
The Zips will christen the new stadium tomorrow at 3 p.m. in a doubleheader against Robert Morris.
Akron seniors, like Zilles, heard about a possible new stadium when they were freshmen. The new stadium will be a symbolic coming-out party for a program that went from mediocre three years ago to a team that can compete against any team in the nation. "There's going to be extra excitement," Zilles said. "I think it is going to raise our level of play a little bit. It is going to give the team an extra boost."
The athletic department will give fans prizes and pizza to get the team a nice turnout in its inaugural game at the new stadium.
If you are walking by the stadium on your way to class, the players would love for you to watch an inning or two.
"We can't wait to get out there and show how good we're becoming," Zilles said.