The Cavalier Daily
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Take me out to the ball game

The Virginia athletic department has stepped up to the plate, but now it needs to belt a home run.

I applaud the athletic department for adding 679 additional seats prior to the Georgia Tech series April 9-11 to give Davenport Field a total capacity of 4,219 seats. Before this most recent addition and an earlier increase of 300 seats - which were added prior to the March 26-28 Clemson series - the total capacity was only 3,240. With the baseball team following up last year's College World Series run with another great season so far, demand far exceeded Davenport's previous capacity, and it was bursting at the seams with Cavalier fans.

But there are still two major issues that need to be addressed regarding Davenport's seating. First, some students are being turned away at the gate, and second, the best seats - which are located behind home plate and are reserved for season ticket holders - are sometimes left empty.

After the home series against Georgia Tech, fellow Cavalier Daily columnist Eric Strow pointed out that some students weren't being admitted because officials said the stadium had reached capacity. And a letter to the editor just yesterday noted that six students were denied entry during the latter innings of the Virginia Tech game Friday.

Prior to the Virginia Tech series, in an e-mail and on the department's Web site, students were told to arrive early because once the stadium reached capacity, no more students would be admitted. Obviously, there are good reasons as to why the athletic department can't allow more than 4,219 people into the stadium, but turning away students who make the trek to Davenport is unacceptable.

Todd Goodale, associate athletic director for marketing and video services, told me that 500 tickets are allotted for students and in some cases - such as the Friday Georgia Tech game - more than 500 students are allowed to enter Davenport because the allotment for the general public doesn't sell out. It doesn't really matter how many tickets students get, however, because if any of them are refused entry, the number of student tickets needs to increase or a lottery system, similar to the one John Paul Jones Arena uses, should be instituted.

In a Virginia football commercial that is currently airing, new football coach Mike London says the "effort [of building a successful football program] must be fueled by an incredible student support system." Is the same not true for baseball? The athletic department is not following this mantra when it turns back students at the gate.

There is no doubt that it is important for students to get to these games early. The gates at Davenport open up two hours prior to the game and dedicated baseball student-fans wishing to arrive before the first pitch can do just that. Not all students attending games will or are even able to arrive that early. Even at men's basketball games, the earliest students can enter JPJ is 90 minutes before tip-off. I don't think it's unreasonable to allow any student who gets to the game 15 to 20 minutes early in the stadium.

I can understand why entry would be denied to students who arrive after the game has started. Still, though, not allowing late students entry possibly could hurt the atmosphere during the late innings of a ball game when the home field advantage needs to be at its greatest.

In the case of the letter to the editor, the students were denied entry even as people were leaving the stadium. If students start thinking that they won't get into games if they don't get there really early, they might stop coming all together, and that is exactly the opposite of what should be happening.

Perhaps a bigger but related problem is having empty seats behind home plate, an area reserved for season ticket holders. This area actually has increased this year to include two more sections on the first and third baselines. During each game - even the sellouts - it is easy to spot a few empty seats in this section. Of course, they are technically sold and count toward the sellout even if no one is in them. This is an issue for two reasons. First, there are about 100 fans at the most crowded games who must stand in the concourse area. Second, these empty seats could go to students who were denied entry into the ballpark. Either way, the athletic department needs to lighten up and allow these seats to be filled. At lots of ballparks, after the fourth inning or so, fans located in general admission sections are allowed to fill empty seats to get closer to the action. This used to be the case at Virginia, but now these seats just remain empty for the entire game. Anyone who dares to try to sit in season ticket sections now is somewhat rudely stopped by an usher - no offense to ushers, they are only told what to say. Empty seats look bad for televised games, and for the best seats in the stadium to go unfilled is simply absurd.

There are ways season ticket-holders can return their tickets for a game to be sold to other fans - either on VirginiaSports.com, through the phone or through the mail. But the policy only can be useful if the department advertises it more and season ticket-holders must use it more.

What if Virginia students are being denied entry while their friends from other schools get in with tickets? Imagine this scenario: This past weekend, it is conceivable a Virginia student could've been denied entry while his Virginia Tech friend could've attended the game. The athletic department can't neglect its own fan base and reward rival fans instead.

The athletic department acted wisely by increasing Davenport's capacity, but now, it must solve two other problems. The empty seats behind home plate must be filled. Perhaps the department is afraid that people will get hurt if they race to these seats. At the Wake Forest basketball game this year - which was sparsely attended because of snow - all fans were allowed to move closer to the court following the first TV timeout, and I didn't hear about any scuffles. This was a brilliant move by the department and contributed greatly to the atmosphere that day. There's no reason these empty seats shouldn't be filled, at Davenport as well.

As for the student problem, a system similar to men's basketball may need to be put in place. Although not every student who wants to attend would be able to, it would be better than having students show up and then turned back at the gate. Unfortunately, there is only one home series left during the school year - May 14-16 against North Carolina - so most students will have left town and this becomes a non-issue. Goodale told me that more seats will be added before the series, although he couldn't specify how many. That is a step in the right direction. Eventually, I think Davenport Field will need to be permanently expanded to hold between 5,000-6,000 seats. Hopefully the athletic department can figure something out for next year because it doesn't look like baseball games will be decreasing in popularity anytime soon.

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