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Alumnus' $1 million gift triggers renovation for baseball

May 2, 2008

KALAMAZOO--Thanks to a $1 million challenge gift from a Chicago equity investor announced today, Western Michigan University baseball fans will settle into a comfortably renovated stadium at historic Hyames Field when they gather to watch the first pitch of the 2009 season.

Robert J. Bobb, chief executive officer of Cardinal Growth L.P. and a 1969 WMU alumnus, has committed $1 million to a planned $2 million renovation of WMU's baseball stadium as a challenge gift. University officials already have raised $600,000 toward the challenge and plan a successful conclusion to the campaign, with fund-raising efforts continuing until the $2 million goal is met. To date, a number of WMU baseball alumni and supporters have been recognized for their gifts through naming opportunities within the stadium. Additional naming opportunities will be available as the campaign continues.

The structure, which will become the Robert J. Bobb Stadium, will significantly enhance the Hyames Field facilities in a way that will allow the historic site--home to the first-ever College World Series in 1947--to continue its role as athletic home to generations of WMU athletes.

"This is a project which is long overdue, given the rich history and proud tradition of baseball at Western Michigan University," says Bobb. "I am pleased to be able to participate and extend my sincere thanks to everyone whose generosity has made this project a reality. The completion of this renovation will not only serve to enhance the baseball program, but also complement the Bill Brown Alumni and Seelye centers and complete Western's athletic presence along Stadium Drive."

Construction on the baseball stadium project will take place this summer, with completion scheduled before the start of the 2009 baseball season. The major renovations will place WMU's baseball facilities once again at the top of the Mid-American Conference and the Midwest. In addition, the project will put the stadium in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"Hyames Field and its traditions are central to our baseball program and part of the University's heritage," says WMU President John M. Dunn. "The field's current stadium was built in a different era. Bob Bobb's generous gift and those made by other donors will allow us to add vital components that were not part of the original structure and create a safe, fan-friendly environment. We are enormously grateful and excited about what this means for our baseball program and for the program's fans on campus and in the community."

Stadium enhancements done through the privately funded renovation project will include:

  • A working press box and two VIP suites
  • Expanded and refurbished dugouts with protective fencing, player restroom, storage and heat
  • 500 chair back seats, aluminum bench seating and new, handicap-accessible seating
  • New concourse with ticket front, concessions, merchandizing front and patron restrooms
  • Handicap accessible entrances and patron facilities
  • Replacement of outfield fencing, the addition of foul-line fencing and a new visitor bullpen
  • Entrance plaza for historical and donor recognition
  • New stadium signage, decorative entrance and replacement of exterior fencing
  • Repair and re-seal of existing grandstand facility
  • Competition stadium lighting may also be added if additional funding is raised.

The renovation follows emergency repairs done to the field and its stadium in 2005, when a violent windstorm ripped the roof off the grandstand area and exposed many of the ballpark's pressing needs. In response, WMU committed $150,000 to replace the deteriorating roof structure and make the area safe for players and spectators. That episode spurred the current drive among alumni to restore the facility to its former status as a model venue for student athletes.

"Bob has been an extraordinary member of our Bronco family," says Kathy Beauregard, WMU's athletic director. "He has been instrumental in an advisory role, establishing a vision for excellence, and has certainly stepped up to the plate to make so many University projects a reality. He has demonstrated over and over again a great commitment and love for our University. Today, we are celebrating a new component that will enhance the image of Western Michigan University, our athletic program and complex, and, specifically, our Hyames Field baseball facilities.

"His generosity in this project is an example of the dedication of our alumni to see that current and future Bronco student-athletes have the best opportunities available. This project not only helps our baseball program but it is also a positive for this institution as a whole and it challenges all of us to work every day to make the experience of our students and student-athletes a positive one."

Construction on Hyames Field's current stadium began in 1934 as a federal Works Project Administration effort to develop a home stadium for Western Michigan varsity baseball. At its dedication in 1939, Hyames was referred to as the "Jewel of the Midwest" and it became the quality benchmark for college ballparks across the nation.

Since its early years, the stadium has held a storied position in the world of collegiate baseball. Long before college teams dreamed of Omaha, Neb., Kalamazoo was the desired destination. Hyames Field hosted the first two College World Series in 1947 and 1948. In 1949, the series moved to Wichita, Kan., and ultimately settled into its present-day location in Omaha.

Hyames Field has been home to six Bronco squads that advanced to the College World Series, including the 1955 NCAA Runner-Up team, and 11 teams that advanced to the NCAA Tournament. Adding to its legendary status is the fact that 94 Major League Baseball draftees and numerous All-Americans spent their college careers calling the ballpark home.

The restoration of Hyames Field to a thriving ballpark will be a dream come true for those who care deeply about WMU baseball, says WMU Coach Randy Ford.

"We have a thriving campus in the Kalamazoo community, nationally recognized academic programs and an indoor facility that is second to none," Ford says. "The Hyames Field renovation project is the final piece of the puzzle for WMU baseball to reach its ultimate potential."

WMU Alumnus Bobb has remained close to his alma mater over the years. He is a WMU Foundation Board director, a member of the WMU President's Circle and a life member of the WMU Alumni Association. In 2006, he was honored with the WMU Alumni Association's Distinguished Alumni Award. Bobb also served on the national steering committee for WMU's most recent capital campaign, which concluded in 2003, and is a member of the Dean's Senior Leadership Cabinet for WMU's Haworth College of Business.

After graduating from WMU, Bobb went on to earn his law degree from the University of Notre Dame in 1972. Since 1978, he has been a principal equity investor in small- to middle-market companies engaged in real estate development, financial services, beverage distribution, trucking, steel processing, construction, and agriculture. Such investments have included startups, turnarounds, and acquisitions from both private and public sellers. In all of these endeavors, Bobb served as CEO or chairman of the board.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, (269) 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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