As the University of Texas at Arlington moves into the Sun Belt Conference this year, the baseball and softball programs have a big update coming their way.With help from philanthropic supporters and previously approved bonds, the baseball and softball complexes will expand in a $5.5 million project that coaches, staff and alumni hope will make a positive impact on potential recruits.After the 2014 baseball season, phase 2 of construction will begin and is expected to conclude by January 2015. Additions will include clubhouses, training facilities and locker rooms.Athletic Director Jim Baker said officials wanted to update the baseball and softball facilities after College Park Center opened for basketball and other events early 2012.“All [the baseball team] had was dugouts and some outdoor batting cages that were minimal at best,” Baker said. “We needed to develop our players and recruit against other schools in the area, so we decided to upgrade the facility starting last year.”The university and the athletic program notified alumni and team supporters about the updates. That’s where alumnus Roy D. Wilson came in.Honoring his sonWilson, a 1979 graduate, enjoyed watching Mavericks games as a student. Years later, his son Justin would share that love for the game.“From the time he could walk, he had a baseball bat in his hand,” Wilson said.The pair could often be found sitting in the stands behind home plate. During the summer, Justin would attend UTA baseball camps.When Justin died in 2010 after an accident at the age of 13, Wilson knew he wanted to support the team in a way that would honor his son’s memory.From there, he reached out to baseball coach Darin Thomas on the projects he wanted to begin, the developments he wanted to make.The new indoor hitting area included in the upcoming project will be named Justin D. Wilson Batting Facility.One-stop accessThe upgrades will not only add several new facilities to the program, but will make practices much more convenient and efficient.Clay Gould Ballpark was built in 1974 and underwent a limited renovation in 2003, when it also took on its present name. Allan Saxe Field, where the softball team plays, was renovated in 1993.However, players must drive to the track and field complex to use locker rooms, receive medical aid or visit staff offices.With the updates, athletes will have one-stop access to their coaches, training facilities, locker rooms and clubhouse and will be able to arrive as early and stay as late as they want.“Everything will be at the field now, and it’s never been that way before,” Thomas said. “It’s a nice convenience that shows a high commitment toward baseball from the school, which is also really nice for recruiting help.”Fans will also see upgrades to the field, sound systems, bleachers and press boxes through leftover money from previous projects, paid back over the next five years from the athletics capital campaign used to raise money, Baker said.Big supporterAlongside his wife, Patti, whom he married in 2011, Wilson has been one of the biggest supporters of the team and has followed the updates from the beginning. The two have continued the tradition of attending games and are popular among the team, fitting right in with Thomas and the rest of the baseball family.Patti said their goal was to contribute in a way that not only supported the team as a whole but also players as individuals.The couple communicates with players through text messages and sometimes travels with them to away games.“I have lofty goals,” Wilson said. “It’s not just, ‘Let’s have a good season.’ Why not also go to Omaha for the [College] World Series like everyone else?”For about four years, the two have contributed about $200 a week, which is matched by Lockheed Martin, where Wilson works.Alongside university contributions, about $500 total goes toward the programs weekly.“At one point I was scattered around and giving money to too many different people,” Wilson said. “I decided I’d rather keep it all in one place, where it would be put to the most help. That’s why I contribute weekly.”He said he hopes to see new recruits notice the future upgrades and from there decide to attend the school. The team’s academic recognition plays another vital part in expansion, he said.And through it all, Wilson said he was honored to be a part of the organization that has played such an important role in his life, as well as Justin’s.He said Justin always enjoyed being around the players he met at clinics, even knowing all of their numbers by heart. Some of the skills he learned there were a big help in his upbringing from T-ball at age 3, through youth leagues and select ball, and eventually to the USSSA World Series in Plano as a member of the Texas Blues 11-and-under team.As the project comes to fruition, Wilson said he can’t wait to see the final project and that he hopes more people make contributions. He and Patti continue to reach out to alumni and professional baseball players to get them on board toward the program’s new direction. Thomas believes it will make a difference.“This project will elevate our program and help us build upon our history of developing winning teams and producing outstanding athletes,” Thomas said. This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.
Taylor Prater, 817-390-7964 Twitter: @taylornprater