Ahead of celebrating 70 years of baseball at Orange Coast College, the Pirate men received the best gift imaginable: a new field.
In September last year an anonymous donor — who team head coach John Altobelli described as a friend to the athletics program — gifted more than $1.5 million toward installing a brand-new all turf field.
Orange Coast College and the baseball team’s additional fundraising covered fencing, new seating and windscreens.
“Every day I walk out here I just thank my lucky stars that we have this,” Altobelli said. “For this donor to step up, now I think that the facility matches the program with the championships and the quality of players we have here.”
The one thing the anonymous donor asked before construction started was assurance that the field would be done in time for the start of the 2018 baseball season, which gave the college six months to complete the project. The field was done in time for the first game of the season, the first Coast alumni game on Dec. 22.
“This has been in the plans for five years or more, to do a complete overhaul of the field,” Vice President of Administrative Services Rich Pagel said. “It was really amazing how fast (renovations) happened.”
Altobelli had wanted an-all turf field for a long time because of the lack of maintenance turf requires compared to grass. When it came to field maintenance, Altobelli and the coaching staff would be the only ones tending to the field.
On game days, Altobelli would arrive to Wendell Pickens Field hours prior to first pitch and make sure his field was in playable condition. Due to poor draining and uneven dirt surfaces, the field often was not.
“I was spending hours and hours and driving miles and miles on that tractor,” Altobelli said. “I would be here (the field) at 5:30 a.m. just to get practice going.”
The $1 million donation was one of three major donations to Orange Coast College in the past year.
“It’s something we (the college) wanted, but it’s tough to come up with that kind of money,” Executive Director of the Orange Coast College Foundation Doug Bennett said.
Orange Coast College has always produced one of the best baseball programs in the state, and despite their track record of six state championships and 18 conference titles, the old field had often been referred to as one of the worst in the conference.
According to Altobelli, his athletes have adjusted well to the new surface, benefiting from the lack of divots in the ground sending the balls on an unpredicted path. He also claims it has helped with recruits, having coaches bringing their teams to see the new facility.
“With this field and facility, there is no better joy that we could have, and I want the campus to be proud of this facility,” Altobelli said.
“It was a Band-Aid on an artery wound, so it was good to find someone that could put a tourniquet on it.”