Ray Birmingham didn’t get doused with ice water Wednesday afternoon, but his UNM baseball program celebrated a big win.
The Lobos’ 10th-year head coach was all smiles and handshakes as he showed people around the sparkling new R.D. and Joan Dale Hubbard Clubhouse. Roughly 400 people were on hand for a grand-opening tour of the $2.4 million facility located just south of UNM’s Santa Ana Star Field.
The 6,000-square foot clubhouse is a massive upgrade for the Lobos baseball team, which previously used a former men’s basketball locker room at the Pit. The only on-site locker facility at Santa Ana Star Field was a cramped corner of the team’s batting cage building, which has no running water.
UNM’s new baseball home features a massive locker room with four big-screen televisions mounted above a Lobo shield in the center. The building also includes coaches’ offices, showers, laundry facilities and an upstairs deck overlooking the playing field.
“This is one of the top 20 baseball clubhouses in the country, no question,” Birmingham said. “This puts us closer to Omaha (site of the annual College World Series), and Omaha’s coming soon.”
Birmingham has pushed hard for the clubhouse facility since UNM opted to move its home games from Isotopes Park to then-Lobo Field midway through the 2013 season. At that time the facility did not have bathrooms or stadium lights, which have since been installed.
“It’s been a process to get this done,” UNM athletic director Paul Krebs said, “but our plan (in 2013) was not to play games here. We were always planning to use Isotopes Park until that kind of went sideways. All things considered, I think this facility is a huge accomplishment, and I think it will make a difference. Ray’s done a marvelous job.”
Part of the reason Birmingham wanted to move his team from Isotopes Park was that the Lobos did not have permanent locker rooms there and had to carry equipment in and out for each game. The stadium’s primary tenants, the Isotopes, also took priority in terms of scheduling.
Such is no longer an issue for the Lobos, thanks to numerous private donations and gifts-in-kind. Krebs said 90 percent of the money used to fund the Hubbard Clubhouse was private.
A large portion came from the Hubbards themselves, including an initial $500,000 gift. The Hubbards were on hand for Wednesday’s grand opening, and R.D. joked that the building comes with expectations.
“If coach Birmingham could win tournaments and championships working out of this little (batting cage) with no running water,” Hubbard said, “we’ll be very disappointed if he can’t win a national championship working from this building.”
Birmingham has enjoyed considerable success at UNM, leading the Lobos to six combined Mountain West regular-season and tournament championships and five NCAA Regional appearances. Nonetheless, he called the new clubhouse a “game-changer” for his program in terms of recruiting. Birmingham also credited numerous contributors Wednesday for helping the project to completion.
“If any of you need a shower on your way to the airport, stop in,” he joked.
Numerous current UNM baseball players attended the grand opening but remained outside while others toured the facility. Sophomore catcher Andrew Pratt said players were not allowed inside until all the other attendees left.
“I’m super-excited to see it,” Pratt said. “I knew they were building this when I was getting recruited here, and that was a big deal. It’s going to be even better for new recruits who can actually walk through it. It’s a huge step for UNM baseball, that’s for sure.”