Rutgers cuts ribbon on Fred Hill Training Complex
The snow had stopped falling onto the streets of Piscataway by the middle of the afternoon Tuesday, but the damage was already done.
The baseball diamond at Bainton Field and the softball field at the Rutgers softball complex were all covered in the white of winter, a situation that would normally have both the Rutgers baseball and softball teams out of luck.
On a day like Tuesday, the programs would be fighting for space in either the Rutgers Athletic Center on Livingston or the Indoor Practice Facility on Busch to get through an early preseason practice and prepare for the upcoming season in the spring.
Many times, they’d find themselves transporting equipment from campus to campus, splitting practices up in order to fit the schedule they shared with the men’s basketball team, which had a game to play at night against Iowa at the RAC Tuesday, or the football team undergoing its winter conditioning program in the Bubble.
Often times, the teams would be relegated to fielding balls in the parking lots of Livingston.
And even when they did get their time in the facilities, they weren’t built to host a baseball practice.
“Typically, at this point in the season, pitchers are standing at the Bubble, posing as the fence or outfield wall — that’s a true story, by the way,” said senior pitcher Max Herrmann. “Players can be seen transporting mounds from one campus to another in their pick-up trucks and … interrupt basketball practice with our constant ping of the bat as they practice their foul shots.”
But this particular day was different — it marked the beginning of a new reality for both the baseball and softball programs.
It was on Tuesday that the Fred Hill Training Complex, a 22,500 square feet facility equipped with state-of-the-art pitching machines, batting cages, bullpen mounds and a full turf infield, was officially unveiled.
Named after a legendary head coach who led the Scarlet Knights to 941 wins in 1,606 games between 1984 and 2013, the facility will serve both the baseball and softball programs.
“One of the things, I guess, to honor someone who’s done so much for Rutgers baseball, has done so much for the University, is to put his name on a facility like this,” said Rutgers head baseball coach Joe Litterio, who played under Hill between 1990 and 1993 before taking over for him in 2014. “The things we could do here in this complex is something we haven’t had a chance to do since he’s been around, since I played for him, until now.”
Among the number of fans, family members and donors who attended the open-to-the-public event were Todd Frazier and Patrick Kivlehan, former players under Hill who shone among the brightest of his thousands of pupils.
The more veteran of the bunch, Frazier is entering his second season with the Chicago White Sox after spending the first five of his career with the Cincinnati Reds.
Kivlehan, the four-year letterwinner with the Rutgers football team that won Big East Player of the Year honors in his only season with the Rutgers baseball team, is entering spring training as a member of the Reds organization, landing there after being waived by the San Diego Padres.
He even took some swings in a quick batting practice session while in his business casual clothing as those in attendance marveled from behind one of the five protective nets that dangle from the complex's ceiling.
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"I was a little nervous, to be completely honest, with all these people here, in my nice clothes," Kivlehan said. "Once I made contact with the first one, it was a little easier."
Both enter their seasons on different standings with their clubs — Frazier is seen as a potential leader of a young, rebuilding team while Kivlehan is entering spring training fighting for a spot on the Major League roster — but the one-time Scarlet Knights came to a consensus on how much the new facility will help their alma mater.
It provides them with more live at-bats, preparing them for their yearly series against Miami in Coral Gables — one that started in 2009, a couple of years after Frazier’s time and a three years before Kivlehan’s only season — far more than playing in the parking lots ever did.
“This is unbelievable,” Frazier said. “It’s above and beyond what I thought it was going to be ... I really wish we had this back in the day.”
Though the facility’s ground was broken a month before Patrick Hobbs became the Director of Athletics in December of 2015, it is another example of his commitment to improving the facilities for Rutgers athletics across all sports.
With more than half of the 100 million dollar goal Hobbs set for the R Big Ten Build — an ambitious fundraising initiative set to raise money for improved athletic facilities at Rutgers — achieved and ground broken on a planned multi-sport training complex that will be known as the RWJBarnabas Health Athletic Performance Center, there is no shortage of hope among those involved that the future is trending upwards for the University.
“Everything we do, whether it’s opening the (Ronald and Joanna Garutti Strength and Conditioning Center), whether it’s opening this new facility, it’s showing people that we could get it done, that we will get it done,” Hobbs said. “They’ll see the benefits of those things opening up so already, I’m hearing from our coaches that it’s changing the game in recruiting, it’s changing the game for them in their preparation, so good, good days ahead for baseball.”
So it was on a gloomy afternoon on the final day of January that Rutgers took another step forward in contending in the Big Ten. But to the administration, the coaches and especially the athletes, not only is the future bright — the present is, too.
“Both the baseball and softball facilities have been spoiled by one of the nicest facilities in the nation. ... it was just the other day that I was talking to the other seniors and we agreed that when visiting schools come over here, they’re going to be the ones whipping out their phones to take pictures of our facilities, something we’ve been doing for a very long time,” Herrmann said.
“It’s an exciting time to be a part of Rutgers athletics. The future is bright for all of our sports and we’re on the path to future success. I believe in Rutgers and I believe in the direction of this program. ... Before I close, I would like to reiterate one thing — we belong in the Big Ten, we’re here to stay and our goal is to win a championship. Progression and advancements like this building, and many others, will help us do that.”