As Evan Porter drives past the newly constructed Tal Anderson Field, it’s still surreal to think he’ll be in the dugout in less than a month. Now in his fifth year, Porter leads the program where he was once a four-year starting shortstop and two-time All-American. It’ll be a different year with COVID-19 protocols and changes in place, but there will be one other major difference: a new home.
“It’s just amazing to see the progress that’s been made,” Porter said. “That’s a testament to Kiewit and our administration. What Trev (Alberts) and his team have done to build these facilities like our ballparks for baseball and softball and Baxter Arena right next to each other, it’s exciting.”
In a state ripe with baseball talent and home to three Division I programs, Porter hopes Tal Anderson Field will pay dividends when it comes to recruiting and keeping that talent in the state.
“There are so many great players within the state of Nebraska and having this state-of-the-art field is going to allow us to keep that local talent in Omaha,” Porter said. “That’s something we’re really excited about.”
For several of the upperclassmen on the Omaha roster, it’s especially exciting to finally have a place to call home. Senior pitcher Joey Machado is a prime example, as the Creighton Prep product is going on his fifth season with the program. In his time in a Maverick jersey, he’s played games at Seymour Smith, Millard North, Westside, Creighton Prep, and Skutt throughout the years.
It’ll be a surreal feeling to see that Omaha logo on the field and finally have a place in his hometown to call his own in that March 5 opener against Creighton.
“It just means a lot to have a field with our name on it that we can call home,” Machado said. “It’s just a testament to all of the past years with previous players and alumni who have been able to work their tails off and build up a program. Coach P (Porter), Coach (Brian) Strawn are alumni, along with Coach (Peyton) Kinney, and it’s just a testament of what they’ve been able to build throughout the years that they’ve been here.
“To be able to have a place to call home is amazing.”
When that first game comes, it’ll be special for the current Mavericks taking the field, but it’s also a chance to represent those who have previously come through the program.
“We want to represent the school the best way our team can,” said senior infielder Breyden Eckhout. “That’s going to mean playing hard and as a team, and we want to try and honor all of the alumni that have gone through in the past and haven’t had the opportunity to play in an environment like that on our own campus. We’re just all looking forward to getting to have our own home to play in.”
Right next door, the softball program will also be opening a new stadium of their own.
With how the 2020 season ended and so much unknown this offseason, head coach Amanda Eberhart wants her group to cherish every moment in 2021. It starts with taking it one game at a time. In the big picture though, the facility will be a gamechanger for her program.
“We are so excited for our program,” Eberhart said. “So excited for the city of Omaha, and I think it’s going to be great for softball within the city.”
It’s especially exciting to have an on-campus facility with Aksarben Village right there. At the same time, the more important part of the new field will be the namesake. A chance to represent Connie Clausen and everything she has done for Maverick athletics.
“In 1969 she started softball and slowly started women’s athletics here,” Eberhart said. “For her to see it, I think it’s going to be really special. It’s been a lot of hard work on her part, and I’m so honored and proud that we get to play on something that has her name on it.”
Similar to Machado others on the baseball team, it’s been a long time coming for several members of the Omaha roster. For the players themselves, it’ll provide stability. Both programs have had to deal with scheduling conflicts and shifting around the past few years, as both have had to share fields with other teams.
There’s also an added benefit of players now having the ability to take extra reps and not having to worry about field maintenance after practices. With it being a turf playing surface, coaches can now use that time to spend with their athletes, or go recruit.
Just like the baseball program, a big part of that recruit next door will revolve around local talent. For the current in-state players, they’ve already seen a lot of growth within the program in recent years. With the new complex, they hope it’ll only continue to do so going forward.
“Especially being from Nebraska myself, just seeing that field for UNO has been something we’ve been waiting for,” said senior outfielder Alexa Sedlak, a Gretna native. “We’re very excited to be able to play this season.”
Sedlak said nobody would’ve imagined what was ahead when last season was cut short. Considering everything that’s happened in the world over the past year, she’s extremely grateful for the opportunity to be back on the field.
“Having a season taken away from you really puts things into perspective knowing that we don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow,” Sedlak said. “It just makes practice and these games even more special to us. It’s such a privilege to be here and be on the team, and being able to play the sport we love.”
Taking the field on brand new turf will only make this season that much more special.
”It’s been a long time waiting,” said senior pitcher Sydney Hampton. “I think that it’s really great that we finally have a place that’s our own.”