Radford native and redshirt junior pitcher Abram Williams says that there is a buzz around town. There once was a time when folks off campus — locals, friends, family members — would ask him how the season was going for the Highlanders, or how he was playing. Now they’re asking new questions.
What’s it like playing baseball under the lights? When can we come watch?
“It’s amazing,” Williams said. “There’s never been a buzz like this before about Radford baseball. I think people want to be fans and want to be a part of our program with our new stadium.”
Williams and the Highlanders are hoping that this sparks the next baseball renaissance, as Radford University opened its sparkling-new facility this season.
The new home of the Highlanders is a 700-seat on-campus stadium, built on the site of the current baseball facility, which saw substantial upgrades a year ago with the addition of a state-of-the-art natural grass playing surface and expanded dugouts.
A new grandstand area with red chair-backed seats runs from dugout to dugout. Eight NCAA tournament-quality lights have been raised to illuminate the complex. Top-notch speakers enhance the game experience for fans, and a new brick-encased press box tops off the additions.
“When I first saw the plans on paper, I thought that they were unbelievable,” Williams said.
The progress is substantial for a player like Williams, who remembers attending his first Radford baseball games as a youngster in the mid 1990s. He was around the program growing up, as a fan and as a camper, all the way until he signed on as head coach Joe Raccuia’s first recruit in 2007.
One of the selling points for Williams was Raccuia sharing with him a long-term view of the program, one that included this new home.
“He told me his vision for the program as well as the new facility the day I met him,” Williams said. “We sat in the old concrete stands during a Dixie League baseball game and he said, ‘I want to see a stadium of red seats where we’re currently sitting, with a new playing surface and new dugouts within five years. And we can win and attract interest with that.’
“I knew right away that I wanted to play for this man.”
The transformation of Radford’s program has been taking place since Raccuia, a 1995 RU graduate and former team captain, took the job in the summer of 2007.
Between the lines, the Highlanders are working on their third straight winning season, setting program records and playing an exciting brand of baseball with a new infusion of talent over the last three seasons.
As a result, there has been a natural progression of wins during each of Raccuia’s seasons — 24 in 2008, 26 in 2009 and 29 victories with a third-place finish in the Big South in 2010. It’s part of what he strives for as the leader of the program — constant progress.
“For the last four years, our players have been fortunate,” Raccuia said. “There’s never been a stagnant moment — every time they look up, something new is happening. Everything, on the field and off the field, is always moving forward.”
“Sometimes that process is faster than other times. It’s always changing for the better, whether it’s from the work of the guys on the field, or the administration here at the university. I appreciate what everyone does, and I hope we keep moving forward.”
“My vision has been to have a ballpark that provides everything we need, but not on a gigantic scale,” Raccuia said. “It’s about filling the place that we have, and we want those people who occupy the seats to be happy, while making the experience one that includes a personal touch.”
The vision has materialized as a result of Raccuia and the Athletic Foundation working to privately raise funds through friends and alumni, morphing the project from abstract idea to brick-and-mortar reality.
The progress and work by the people around the players hasn’t gone unnoticed. Williams said the new facilities are an inspiration for the players — now and in the future.
“You look at what has happened with the facility and you hope that you are successful enough to one day give back,” said Williams. “We’re all part of the building point of this program, and we want to help make this program better down the road and help to build future phases of this facility.”