Andrew Pang - Inside the Spartans

San Jose State softball succeeds but lacks a true home field

Despite being in the race for the Mountain West Conference championship, a glaring reality for San Jose State softball is its lack of a true home field and reduced live coverage of its games.

Facing Nevada on March 18, Katelyn Linford tossed San Jose State softball’s first no-hitter since 2005—in Stockton.

The middle matchup of the sweep of Boise State on April 14, a 1-0 win, ended with what sounded like a SportsCenter “Top 10” highlight, as the official recap summarized: “Right fielder Casey Watt raced into foul territory and gloved the ball as she slammed into the fence. After hitting the ground she showed the ball to the umpire who called the batter out, ending the game.”

Like the Linford no-hitter, this was also a home game, albeit at Mission College, a junior college in nearby Santa Clara.

With a 32-15 (12-6 Mountain West) record, San Jose State softball is headed towards another successful season under longtime head coach Peter Turner. In the Mountain West Conference standings, San Jose State is currently in second place and just one game behind this weekend's upcoming opponent, Utah State.

In the short term, the Mountain West championship and automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament are on the line this weekend. Looming in the longer term over San Jose State softball is the lack of a home field that has made it play completely off campus, something none of the other Mountain West softball programs needed to do this season.

Displaced with no replacement in sight

In May 2016, as part of the privately funded South Campus Facility Plan, San Jose State University broke ground on the $10.2 million Spartan Golf Complex, to be built on the corner of Alma Avenue and Senter Road.

This marked the end of SJSU Field, the softball team’s home field since 1998, as well as the baseball practice field. Because San Jose State has not raised the funds to upgrade their facilities on South Campus, both the baseball and softball teams practice on the football field at CEFCU Stadium.

Rick Upton, a 1992 graduate of San Jose State and member of football booster organization the Quarterback Club, suggests that his alma mater could do a better job at fundraising.

“There could be much more transparency into what is needed and how donors can help, and there could be a lot more done to make the donation process easy and provide instant gratification to donors,” says Upton.

Accessible via the South Campus Facility Plan section of the “Inside Athletics” section, a promotional brochure for the proposed new softball stadium lists features including an expanded seating capacity of 1,000, new batting cages, and a locker room. These and the field cost slightly under $6.5 million.

In an interview shortly before the 2016 season, Turner told Inside the Spartans that a donor pledged $2 million. On the night of the final preseason scrimmage of 2017, Turner said to this outlet: “We have money set aside...Now it’s time to finish the stadium so we’re in it next year.”

Yet as of now, the only completed stages of the project are the batting cages and a temporary locker room building.

“[W]e need to plan to be off campus another year. All in all, we're working feverishly to get the off campus teams back on campus as expeditiously as possible,” said San Jose State interim athletic director Marie Tuite.

A home field mix-up

Last November, San Jose State announced that 11 of 14 home games would take place at Santa Clara University, with the three-game Nevada series taking place at the University of the Pacific in Stockton. However, the 11 others were moved to Mission College.

“[W]e had some scheduling challenges with our home conference games and the WCC schedule…Santa Clara scheduled to play at home the same days as we were scheduled,” explained Tuite. Santa Clara University, a private institution, is a member of the WCC (West Coast Conference).

“We could have played some non-conference games at [Santa Clara University], but our [c]oach believed it was best to play all of our games at Mission,” added Tuite.

According to a Google Maps search, going to Mission from San Jose State takes around 15 minutes by car or at least an hour with a transfer by bus, as there is no direct route between the two colleges. In contrast, Santa Clara University has direct access from downtown San Jose, from either the 22 or 522 VTA bus lines.

Lack of visibility

Not only are softball home games further away from campus, but they do not have live play-by-play video coverage.

Jess Knaster, broadcaster for the Spartan Digital Network, says that the lack of adequate Internet access at the Mission College field makes a streaming video setup difficult.

“Running off of a hotspot wouldn’t work because of upload speed. Picture and sound would be poor, so that leaves us in the tough spot of being unable to provide live coverage,” added Knaster.

In contrast, SJSU Field had high-speed Wi-Fi access. A search of the archives shows that in the 2016 season, nine of 14 home games had video streams.

For now, the only ways to follow home games without attending are via live stat feeds provided by San Jose State, the official @SJSUSpartansSB team Twitter feed, or @TheSpearSJSU run by student journalists.

The reduced online video presence frustrates former player Jessie Hufstetler, who began her career on the 2013 WAC Tournament championship team and became one of the most accomplished players in program history. She has often called on San Jose State to build the new softball stadium.

“I can’t even watch my teammates play anymore unless I am there in person or…the game is being streamed at their away games,” commented Hufstetler.

Additionally, Hufstetler expressed concern for “families of these softball players [who] are unable to attend games due to distance and rely on live streaming.” This year’s roster shows six players from the Bay Area and many more from other parts of California, mostly the Central Valley, Greater Los Angeles, and Inland Empire. Five are from out of state, specifically Texas, Wisconsin, Canada, and Australia.

Will work concessions for gear

Not only has fundraising for new facilities been a challenge—so has fundraising for new clothing and equipment.

Some who attend football games have seen softball players staffing the concession stands at Spartan Stadium (now CEFCU Stadium) in recent years.

“As a team, we unanimously decided this. We worked at the concession stands voluntarily because we wanted more equipment and apparel. We were graciously given [these] by our sponsors, but we felt like most of the other programs [and] schools were receiving more,” said Hufstetler.

Jessica Madrid, another former player who is now an assistant coach at Appalachian State, corroborated Hufstetler’s account.

“…we were offered a spot to work the [football] games…So all of us decided to give up watching the football games in order to work and make money to put towards gear,” said Madrid, who earned all-conference honors in both her seasons at San Jose State after transferring from Delaware State.

A challenge for the incoming athletic administration

On April 21, San Jose State officially announced its search for a new athletic director, nearly two and a half months after reassigning former athletic director Gene Bleymaier as a special advisor to the president.

Among the challenges presented to the next athletic director will be how to finish the South Campus Master Plan and bring back on-campus facilities for baseball and softball.

“All Division I athletic programs at SJSU should have a venue to perform their sport[s] on,” says Hufstetler. “…You don’t need the best of the best to be able to win championships, but when you have nothing…how to you expect a sport to excel and prosper?”

Chelsea Jenner, one of the five seniors on the team who play their final "home games" this coming weekend, probably summarized this season the best in a tweet that has over 25 retweets and 65 likes as of Monday evening: "SJSU can clinch [its] first MW title with no field and no benefits. Just hard work from the coaches and players who care about the program." The Spear, a student-run publication covering San Jose State sports, quoted Jenner in its own tweet:

Conference championship on the line

Utah State is 14-6 in conference play, and San Jose State is 12-6. Other teams in the hunt for the conference title are Nevada (11-7), San Diego State (10-8), and Fresno State (9-8). In short, San Jose State must win the series if not sweeping it, to have a chance at the conference title.

Yet money talked and evicted softball away from a facility that could accommodate an online broadcast. To borrow a Gil Scott-Heron phrase, the contest will not be televised.

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