Southern breaks ground on new baseball clubhouse

Officials break ground on long-awaited clubhouse at Lee-Hines Field

Even a few years before pitcher Brian Foster made it to Southern University in 2008, he saw renderings of a new clubhouse for Roger Cador’s proud and powerful baseball program.

For Foster, a pre-med student from Atlanta, the proposed clubhouse was a selling point, another good reason to play ball there.

He played four years at Southern, earning his degree while he compiled an 18-7 career record. He logged more than 170 innings. He earned a Southwestern Athletic Conference title.

But there was one thing Foster never did: He never set foot in that clubhouse. Instead, he and his teammates often changed clothes in a parking lot.

“It was just a struggle,” Foster said. “It would be a hot day, and you’re out there in the car. You don’t have any socks on; you’re stepping on rocks. ... We just had to make the best of it.”

Those days will soon be over.

Wednesday morning, right outside Lee-Hines Field, Southern officials and other dignitaries took part in a ceremonial groundbreaking for the long-awaited clubhouse — a $1.25 million, 4,200-square-foot facility that will stand just beyond the wall in left-center field.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Cador said, “but it’s finally here.”

The new clubhouse is supposed to be in place for the start of baseball season in February.

Seriously.

“Obviously, this is a beginning and not an end,” Athletic Director William Broussard said. “It took a lot to get here. It’s going to take that to get it done. The real work starts now.”

In one sense, that’s very true. Blount General Contractors will soon begin work on the facility, which will include a locker room, coaches’ offices, team meeting areas and other ancillary rooms.

Construction will be the final step in a process that began nearly a decade ago, when Cador — who at the time was running the best black college baseball program in the nation — began to push for a baseball-only facility. (Team equipment and umpires’ lockers are housed across the parking lot, inside the F.G. Clark Activity Center.)

At one time, Cador said, Southern had secured $1 million to fund the project.

“That was many years ago now,” he recalled.

But the university dragged its feet, in part because a virtual parade of administrators came and left.

Ultimately, Southern used that money to help finish the suites and field house at the north end of A.W. Mumford Stadium. That project was finished in 2009.

Less than a year before, Hurricane Gustav wrecked parts of Lee-Hines Field, including the outfield wall and the visitors’ dugout. Southern raced to get the ballpark in shape for the ’09 season, forcing the postponement of the home opener.

“I remember when Gustav hit my freshman year,” recalled Foster, who has since graduated and applied to medical school. “They had all those repairs they needed to do. I was hoping they would start up with the new building, too.”

They didn’t.

Cador soon found an ally in the late state Rep. Avon Honey, D-Baton Rouge, who represented the Scotlandville area.

“He believed in me. He believed in what I was trying to do, and he believed in north Baton Rouge,” Cador said of Honey, who died in 2010. “He felt this was something that, after we lost the original amount of money, we had to build. It probably was a blessing, in actuality. He ended up getting us more money in order to make it happen.”

The $1.25 million comes from state funding. It will be funneled through the city-parish because it’s a city-parish project.

“If you want to see endurance, take a look at all of those who are affiliated with where we are today,” Mayor-President Kip Holden said.

The new clubhouse should, in theory, help Cador and Southern regain its standing as the top black college baseball program in the nation.

Once an unquestioned powerhouse — Southern won 14 SWAC titles in Cador’s first 25 years — the Jaguars have claimed only two tournament championships since 2003.

The program lost its edge — partially because Cador missed on some recruits, but also because other SWAC schools started taking baseball seriously, hiring bright young coaches and, in some cases, building new facilities.

“In the past, (Cador has) accomplished so much with so little,” Chancellor James Llorens said.

When Southern finishes the project, he’ll have a little more.