By Danny Barnts
One of the best things about the athletic staff at WOU is their commitment and dedication to their teams. You'll hear former volleyball coach Judy Lovre loudly cheering for current coach Brad Saindon and his team, Duke Iverson still patrols the sidelines and stops by to get the latest dish on Wolves' football, and former baseball coach Joe Caligure is no different. Caligure is often seated in the bleachers behind home plate - and starting this fall, he and all WOU baseball fans will be watching the Wolves play on a new surface for the first time since 1971.
This summer, the old infield was removed and replaced with a synthetic surface called field turf. It features fabricated grass-like fibers infilled with cryogenic rubber. It will allow for greater drainage, more outdoor practice days and the opportunity to bring high profile regional opponents to Monmouth. The field turf was installed, by Pro Turf Solutions in less than one month. It will lower maintenance costs and provide WOU with the only synthetic baseball surface in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference. Current WOU Head Coach Jeremiah Robbins has hoped for this type of field to increase the opportunities for Western Oregon student-athletes Back in his day, Caligure was just happy to get a level playing field.
Pictured: Coach Joe Caligure (left) and Coach Jeremiah Robbins (right)
Changes in the field
Prior to 1971, the baseball field was beside Old P.E. – and home plate was located near where Wolverton Pool is now. Caligure recalls the field being lined with a picket fence and the ground being so slanted downhill toward the outfield that if the left fielder was on his knees, he could not see home plate. Eventually the ballpark was moved to its present location on the corner of Stadium Drive and Church Street. That is when the work started for Caligure; who built the dugouts with his own hands, went about the rigorous task of maintaining the field, and moved metal bleachers from inside Old P.E. to where the stands are today.
Coach Robbins also has seen improvements over the past five years to what he likes to refer to as “Joe Caligure Field.” There have been improvements to the dugouts in both quality and size, along with raising the backstop from 20 to 40 feet. Coach Robbins also carried on some of the same tasks as Coach Caligure: throughout the week and after each game members of the team would hand-water the infield, mow the grass and perform work on the mound and infield dirt. Although it can be a tiresome task, Robbins still said that as a head coach he liked having complete control over the most sacred, hallowed ground on the field. With the installation of the new field turf, Robbins admits he will miss the time he and his team put into taking care of the infield. This time and effort that he and the entire family of Wolves baseball players over the years have put into the field is a symbol of what the program has been built on: hard work.
However, a ball field is not the only similarities shared by these two baseball coaches, as both have faced many of the same challenges and opportunities as leaders of the Wolves.
Commitment to success
Under both coaches Western Oregon’s success on the diamond has continued. Caligure garnered four conference titles and four district championships during his time at the helm and Robbins has captured the GNAC championship in five straight seasons and led the team to five regional appearances. Both coaches have been able to achieve success by bringing in solid student-athletes from throughout the Northwest and surprisingly both have used similar tactics focused around their competitive scheduling. With Caligure leading the way and before the days of the politics and complications of the current NCAA Division I system of Rating Percentage Index and being selected for postseason play, Western Oregon enjoyed in-state rivalries with teams all over, including Oregon, Oregon State, Portland State, Eastern Oregon and Linfield.
While the number of games on the schedule has also grown from 32 games in Caligure’s days to 50 under the current NCAA Division II schedule and many of the ‘old’ rivalries have been lost, Robbins has made a commitment to playing the top teams in the region. For the second straight year, the Wolves will open the season on the road (after a 1,000 mile bus trip) against the No. 1 team in the region and national runner-up UC San Diego. The Wolves will then take on No. 2 regionally ranked Cal State Dominguez Hills in a four-game series. While all this sounds like a grueling way to open the season, this is the message and opportunity Robbins brings to the Wolves, which had been carried on from the days of Caligure.
Laying the groundwork
Robbins credits the success he and the program have been able to achieve at WOU because of the foundation that was laid out before he ever donned a Wolves’ uniform. “When someone is here for 26 years the groundwork is very solid,” he explained. “I talk to our kids about the longevity of this program and the respect they need to have for the coaches and players that have come before us. The fact that we are sitting in this dugout is in large part to Joe Caligure,” Robbins continued. “He laid the groundwork for the new surface. I look at the tradition and I respect that tradition, and I will do my best to carry on that pride and integrity that he brought to this program for 26 years.”
Caligure also speaks highly of Robbins and the direction he has taken the program, especially the way he handles the student-athletes. “Jeremiah has done a good job recruiting people here and he controls the kids with discipline,” explained Caligure. “He has done a nice job with this field and the program. He has brought a winning attitude to the student-athletes.”
The Wolves’ baseball has come a long way since the picket fences and slanted field of the past and the program is looking even brighter than the new synthetic surface moving into the future thanks to the current man at the helm and the one that came before him.