Alumni donations fund renovation

Baseball field to be rededicated to Robert Garbark, ’32


Photo Contributed by BRANDN CRUM

The baseball field at the Robertson Athletic Complex mid-renovation on Friday, Jan. 13. The project began in November 2022, and the finished field will be turf — a welcome change for the team.

Throughout the 119 years of baseball history at Allegheny College, players have dug their cleats into sand, silt and clay. Now, the team will get to experience what it is like to consistently compete on a turf field in 43 days when they play their home-opener against Houghton on Saturday, March 18. The community is buzzing with elation.
“I think there is a snowball starting to form,” said Head Baseball Coach Brandon Crum. “It is starting to roll downhill with excitement because it is starting to get real.”
This design has been in the making for years. It is not a walk in the park to find the funds, develop designs and take care of all other logistical measures to bring a project as major as this to fruition, according to Director of Athletics and Recreation Bill Ross.
Despite the longevity of the proposal, the renovation has swiftly gone from a pipe dream to reality.
When Ross was in charge of the facilities at the college, he saw all the problems of playing baseball and preparing for a home contest in the northeast. The college knew change was needed — and soon.
“I have tons and tons of pictures showing (players) wading in over ankle-deep water, trying to get water off the field,” Ross said. “They were out there shoveling the snow off the tarp, dumping it and making a huge mess all around the perimeter of the field.”

Many challenges of field maintenance, especially those caused by inclement weather, will be resolved with the new field.
Adding to how rough playing conditions can be in Meadville, last year the team was voted to be in the top 25 for Division III baseball more times than they had practices outside.
The field will be named after former Head Coach Robert Garbark, ’32, who was inducted into the Allegheny Hall of Fame in 1980. A few of his many accolades include being the first All-American at the college, earning the All-Tri-State Award in basketball and football, and ranking third for 45 years among Allegheny’s all time scoring list as a fullback.
Garbark also played in the Major Leagues for seven seasons. He spent time in Cleveland, Boston and Philadelphia. During the prime of his career, he was also a member of the Chicago Cubs championship team in 1938. He totaled a career .248 batting average across 145 total games, according to
When his playing days were over, Garbark returned to his alma mater, again embedding his legacy within the Gators’ culture by serving as the head baseball coach from 1947-78. He led his team numerous times to the top of the Presidents’ Athletic Conference. Under his reign, the Gators seized 14 of 20 PAC titles between its inception in 1955 and Garbark’s retirement, including a run of five straight championships from 1960 to 1964.
Athletes cherished playing for him, and the field renovation project was started to honor the footprints he left behind, forever remembered by generations of the Allegheny family as an icon.
“(He was) a coach that really is legendary in the sense of the love that everyone who played for him had,” Ross said. “Once you start uncovering all that and looking into it, it is like, ‘Yes, this is a person that deserves to be honored on our campus.’”
It was by chance that Ross was with an alumnus one afternoon and happened to mention Garbark’s name. Ross explained that someday the school would like to do something for Garbark by upgrading the field. The alumnus jumped on it right away, saying he would donate funds to the cause if this idea came to life.
From there, things took off. Many other alumni, former players of Garbark and more recent graduates were willing to step in and make sizable contributions to the baseball program. They provided the main source of capital for this field to be installed.
Crum has been working behind the scenes to involve alumni and was regarded by Ross as an exceptional coach who was eager to lend his hand in the fundraising efforts. He has recruited 12 alumni who represent each five-year period of the program’s history dating from 1970 to 2020. Together, they have worked strategically to connect with even more former teammates to get as many people on board as possible.
“I recognize that they would not be willing to advocate for this kind of commitment if they did not believe in me and the vision I have for the program,” Crum said. “I cannot express to you how much their support motivates me to see this project through. We are building a beautiful baseball park. I know they will be proud of the enhancements.”
Renovations started in November 2022, with Playing Surface Solutions beginning their work heading into winter. They have worked through tough weather conditions to ensure the field will be ready to go in March, and soon the first strips of turf will be laid down.
In addition to the work being done on the infield, the dugouts will also be pushed back into the surrounding hill that engulfs half of the ballpark. Furthermore, the backstop will no longer be supported by a damaged chain-linked fence, but will instead encompass a more professional look similar to a Major League field.
“That is one of the most picturesque settings for a baseball field that I have seen,” Ross said. “It is going to be a great spectator-friendly facility, and very nice to look at.”
Despite the forthcoming changes to the baseball field, the renovations have stirred up nostalgia among team members, who will never forget their own experiences maneuvering through their swamp.
During tarp duties last season, there were not enough players due to class commitments to pull the cover across the infield. Crum had to get involved. While everyone worked to make sure the infield would be protected from an ensuing storm, a gust of wind picked up and lifted Crum off his feet.
“I just remember holding the tarp and looking over and seeing Coach Crum in the air,” said starting pitcher Conor Deasy, ’23. “He did not have the most graceful fall down.”
For Crum, dragging the dirt after games and practice allowed him to collect his thoughts before addressing the team. It was a time for him to reflect, but he also took pride in manicuring a natural field, despite the Meadville climate calling for other agendas.
During one of the last games of the regular season a year ago — which ended up being one of the last games the Gators would ever play on the dirt field — a photographer took a picture of Crum with his son and daughter all dragging the field together. After years of doing it by himself because the kids were too young, it provided him with a scene he will never forget.
With the team returning to the PAC for the first time in almost 40 years in addition to their new home field, hopes are high for the team to perform well. They are considered by many among the league as conference favorites; however, they will have to back up their high reputation with good play on the field.
“I think this shows signs of strength, and where we are going,” Crum said. “This field and this enhancement is going to prove to be one of the better investments we have made here at this institution on the athletics side. It gives the whole Robertson complex a fresh look. When you pull around the bend you are going to see this brand new baseball field and it is going to give people excitement for what is to come on the diamond this spring.”