To hear softball coach Leslie King describe it, Penn Park may very well become a Palestra of sorts for her program.
That’s not to say she believes the park’s new, modernized softball field will even come close to replicating the history, tradition and aura of “The Cathedral of College Basketball,” but it can offer her players a similar benefit that the Palestra offers Penn’s basketball teams.
“There’s a tremendous sense of pride now in our facility,” King said. “It makes [my players] feel big-time, and it should. They deserve it.”
The new field will have a Sprinturf outfield — the same surface Franklin Field uses — and it boasts what King called “the best dirt money can buy” in the infield.
The soil repels water to keep it from puddling during rainstorms and will be resistant to the usual freezing and thawing of the surface that the team had to deal with at its previous home, Warren Field.
All in all, that means fewer canceled practices and games due to rain and more time preparing for the rigors of the regular season.
While the new field will surely help the program in the immediate future, Penn Park will also help in the long run in terms of recruiting.
As King put it, “We’re going to be able to attract the student-athlete that not only wants a great education but also wants a quality Division-I experience, and you’re certainly going to get that playing at Penn Park.”
That recruiting pitch should resonate even more considering the quality of the Penn Park field compared to those at other rivaling Ivy schools.
Freshman second baseman Vanessa Weaver said her new home turf is “millions and trillions of miles above even the other [Ivy] schools,” while King more generally ranked it as “the nicest field in the Ivy League by a huge amount.”
The scenic view of downtown Philadelphia and its illustrious skyline also figures to be a major selling point for the program.
Altogether, it’s something King will be able to market to her recruits as more than just a place where the team plays.
“This is something nobody else has,” King explained. “[In addition to the academics] now we can sell the athletic facilities and also the city of Philadelphia.”
Sharing that scenery and the park itself will be Penn’s tennis program, which also figures to enhance its reputation.
Both the men’s and women’s teams have begun to practice at their new facility, the Lynn and Clay Hamlin Outdoor Tennis Center.
And the praise that men’s tennis coach David Geatz showered on his new stomping grounds was similar to King’s.
“I don’t know who designed it, but they did everything right,” Geatz said. “You’ve got 12 courts, they’re lined up six in a row, you’ve got electronic scoreboards, you’ve got a view that can’t be beat anywhere in the Ivy League and the surface is great.”
Geatz, who previously spent two seasons coaching Cornell, believes the new facility is the best in the Ancient Eight and that it will “upgrade” both the team’s recruiting and scheduling — an important issue considering that last year, some players felt the nonconference schedule wasn’t challenging enough.
And if those upgrades weren’t ample already, the state-of-the-art courts will also open up team-building opportunities for the tennis program, according to Jules Rodin, a junior on the women’s side.
Given the accommodation of 12 courts (as opposed to six last year), Rodin said the team will have more efficient practices and the women may soon practice alongside — and against — the men.
Ultimately, though, it will culminate in a source of pride for the coaches and players alike.
“I definitely think we will hold so much pride for these courts,” Rodin said. “We’re going to hopefully create lots of good history on the court.”
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