When Fred Wilpon came to Ann Arbor on a baseball scholarship in 1954, the University’s baseball stadium was already run down. Although it’s been renovated several times since then, Wilpon said the stadium still isn’t quite good enough.
That’s why Wilpon, now the principal owner of the New York Mets, announced yesterday that he plans to donate $12 million to the University, $4 million of which will help pay for renovations to Fisher Field and Alumni Field, the homes of the Michigan baseball and softball teams.
The complex on the athletic campus that includes both stadiums will be renamed the “Wilpon Baseball and Softball Complex” in honor of his donation.
Both stadiums will receive new seats, press boxes and indoor batting cages. New offices and a museum will be built into Fisher Field.
The renovation projects will cost more than $16 million. Other donors and Athletic Department funding will pay for the rest.
Although both stadiums will keep their current names in the near future, Associate Athletic Director Joe Parker said the University is considering renaming Alumni Field. Parker said the University is looking for a private donor who would like his or her name attached to the softball stadium.
Construction on Fisher Stadium has already begun. Alumni Field renovations will begin next month.
Parker said both projects should be finished by next year.
“We’re very happy that kids at Michigan will have a first-class stadium within a year,” Wilpon said.
Wilpon’s donation will also provide $5 million to create an organization called the Sports Injury Prevention Center. The center, which will be located at the Domino’s Farms office complex in northeast Ann Arbor, will conduct research into injuries sustained by people playing recreational sports.
Wilpon knows first-hand the hardships sports injuries can cause.
After he suffered a rotator cuff injury between his freshman and sophomore years that ended his baseball career, he lost the athletic scholarship that had brought him to the University.
Using student loans and University scholarships, Wilpon paid for the next three years of school and graduated in 1958.
“We want to increase quality of life by letting people play (sports) and minimizing their injuries,” Wilpon said.
The last $3 million of Wilpon’s gift will fund need-based scholarships for undergraduate students in the College of Literature, Science and the Arts.
Because University President Mary Sue Coleman has promised to match all need-based scholarship donations using University funds, Wilpon’s donation means an extra $6 million of financial aid will be available.
In a statement, Coleman said Wilpon’s gift demonstrates his dedication to the University.
“The Wilpons’ gift will affect so many facets of the University,” she said.