By Jason Kohler
Daily Sports Writer
At 3:05 today, the Michigan baseball team planned to take the field for its home opener against Oakland University.
But, if fans head down to Ray Fisher Stadium this afternoon, the only people they’ll find will be workers standing in the rain in muddied, tan coats, putting final touches on the new nine-million-dollar complex for its inauguration.
Michigan cancelled its first contest in the Wilpon Baseball and Softball Complex yesterday, more than 24 hours before game time. The game has been rescheduled for next Monday, March 24.
A game is usually called off on the day of the contest unless there are extreme weather circumstances. This raised the question of whether the stadium is ready for a crowd.
But Michigan coach Rich Maloney won’t hear of it.
“There’s nothing to that,” Maloney said from his office on the second floor of the new complex. “I cancelled the game. No one else had to do with it. I cancelled it because it’s raining outside.”
Maloney called the decision a no-brainer. According to online forecasts, it will be about 40 degrees with showers tomorrow afternoon.
The gloomy weather won’t slow down the workers, though. The stadium is still littered with construction equipment, including a small orange lift behind the home plate bleachers.
The construction of the complex began in December 2006, and involves renovations to the softball team’s Alumni Field as well as Fisher Stadium. The stadium renovation is running on schedule to be completed this March, according to the construction report that was submitted to the University Board of Regents for tomorrow’s regents meeting.
As part of the new complex, a new brick wall was built in left field. The wall was Maloney’s idea, and he hopes it will add character to the field. But behind the wall, the leftover brick and construction equipment remain.
The biggest areas of concern are the muddy bullpens, which won’t be completed for another week or two.
“The game itself has nothing to do with what isn’t done,” Maloney said. “Are there still things being tidied up? You betcha. But that doesn’t change the game. We still want to play.”
Despite the yellow-green, half-frozen outfield grass, Maloney says the field is playable because it wasn’t part of the construction. It was redone two years ago.
“All we really need is the playing surface and the wall,” senior captain Derek VanBuskirk said. “We don’t really need the extra stuff around it.”
The Wolverines haven’t been able to practice in the new stadium this year because of the construction.
“It’s special for the kids because they’re going to walk out of that locker room and they’ll be the only people who will walk into this stadium for the first time,” Maloney said.
Except for the construction workers, of course.
Since Maloney came to Michigan in 2002, he dreamed of building a new baseball complex. He certainly didn’t imagine having to postpone Opening Day in the new ballpark.
But, as one onlooker passing by the stadium yesterday said, the complex will look like a big-time park when it’s complete.
“I want people to say, ‘Wow, we get a chance to play in this ballpark,’ ” Maloney said.
Is it the stadium Maloney envisioned? Not yet.
Is it playable? Maloney has no doubts – as long as it stops raining.