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  • Ernie Samora, Staff Writer

Oregon legislature’s $3 million investment in Willamette baseball

A mallard flies overhead and lands on a sports turf. It nibbles on the grass and then appears shocked. Graphic by Alice Thornes

The Roy S. “Spec” Keene Stadium, otherwise known as “The John,” is gaining some upgrades. The Oregon legislature recently granted $3 million to Willamette for the addition of artificial turf and lights to the baseball field. 

This funding is a part of Senate Bill 5701, designating funding to entertainment and cultural organizations across the state. While the bill passed with an overwhelming majority (49-7) on March 7, there are some who believe the money could be better distributed

SB5701 is a “Christmas Tree Bill,” decorated with quality-of-life improvements and gifts to encourage economic growth and make constituents happy. The Salem Baseball and Softball Turf Project has raised over half the funds needed; SB5701 provides the last of the funding to make the project possible.

In return for the state funding, the field will be available for rent to local K-12, college and community organizations during the Bearcats’ off-season. The deal was made as part of a recent partnership between Willamette, Salem-Keizer Public Schools and the Salem Baseball Club to address the needs of Salem youth. 

“The youth of Salem-Keizer desperately need more year round safe outdoor space,” wrote Luke Emanuel of the Salem Baseball and Softball Turf Project in the funding request. The field will also be available for YMCA, Boys & Girls Club and Special Olympics programming needs. Furthermore, the Keene stadium will become an emergency disaster relief destination for Marion County. The state also hopes the increased funding will spur tourism to Salem. 

Although there are over 100 synthetic turf baseball and softball fields in Oregon, none are in Salem. Considering that 84% of Salem-Keizer’s 40,318 students are economically disadvantaged, many are unable to participate in organized sports. The Salem-Keizer school district, in the midst of budget cuts, is unable to afford to add turf to all six of the public high schools' 12 baseball and softball fields as would be necessary to comply with Title IX. Through SB5701, many children and locals across Salem will finally have access to a safe, central outdoor environment to play baseball and softball.

Willamette also hopes to benefit from the upgrades. Synthetic turf fields conserve water, reduce maintenance and reduce environmental pollution from gas-powered equipment and fertilizer. Players will no longer have to sponge pools of water in order to use the field while it’s raining. Currently, if it is raining during practice times, players have to find alternate areas to practice, using McCulloch’s or Sparks’ turf fields. If these fields are in use by another athletic team, practices are rescheduled. Improving Willamette baseball’s practices will only have positive results on their already strong presence. “It will improve quality and ability to play,” said outfielder Nate Hamburger (‘26). “We’re going to get out there and keep winning.”

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