With the beginning of spring, the gates officially opened at UVA’s Palmer Park – the highly anticipated new home for Women’s Softball at the University of Virginia. As winter thawed and construction ended, the softball team moved into their brand-new stadium and home. UVA Athletics’ social media buzzed with the team’s elation and joyful reactions to seeing their new home for the first time. Coach Joanna Hardin and her staff prepared the team for their first home games in the new stadium, while Carla Williams, Director of Athletics, and the UVA Athletics Foundation planned the official Ribbon-Cutting ceremony for the new stadium the same week.
Hopes and Dreams
“This day is for the hopes and dreams of little girls in the Commonwealth of Virginia and beyond, who dream of competing for softball championships,” Williams said at Palmer Park’s Ribbon-Cutting ceremony on March 6, 2020. “To dream is a powerful expression of the human spirit. When we dream dreams that may seem impossible, we give ourselves the freedom to unapologetically pursue excellence, to pursue greatness.”
Before the nightmare of COVID-19, opening week at Palmer Park was indeed a dream. The first home opener against JMU and the first home series against Virginia Tech drew hundreds of fans – estimates for each game were well over 700. “Palmer Park Opens to Glowing Reviews” headlined VirginiaSports.com. The Ribbon-Cutting ceremony drew dozens of softball alumni, fans, and donors including Lisa Palmer and her mother Fran, the lead benefactors and namesakes of the new stadium. Palmer Park is the first athletics competition site named for a former female student athlete at UVA.
“Today is such a special day and really is a moment in history for Virginia Softball,” said Lisa Palmer, a dominating pitcher for UVA in the 1980s. She established school pitching records in wins, innings pitched, games completed, and games started. Lisa is the co-record holder for wins in a single season with 27 wins in the 1988 season. “The stadium is absolutely beautiful. It fits in so well with the rest of the university,” Palmer said. Lisa and Fran were honored with the first pitch to open ACC play at home on March 6, 2020.
Right at Home in UVA’s Park of Parks
Palmer Park is located near the corner of Massey and Copeley roads, nestled on a site within the Athletics Precinct just west of John Paul Jones Arena, a preeminent location within UVA’s “Park of Parks.” Fans enter through the main athletics precinct gate – the same entrance used for Klöckner Stadium (soccer and lacrosse), Disharoon Park (baseball), and Lannigan Field (track and field). As fans enter along the sloping main procession, Palmer Park emerges as the first new destination within the precinct where visitors can enter the stadium at an elevated gate overlooking right field.
“It's such a beautiful Park. The design is perfect for this location and it's perfect for UVA,” shared Williams. “I've been to a lot of softball stadiums around the country and we think VMDO did a great job with the design. It's transformational for our Softball program.” Palmer Park enhances the Precinct’s pedestrian-friendly, community-oriented setting with a 360-degree concourse, grassy berms in the outfield, and extensive views of UVA’s Rotunda and Monticello to the southeast, connecting it to the broader landscape and history of the region.
"Transformational" for UVA's Women’s Sports
Building on a 30-year legacy of VMDO athletic facilities in UVA’s Athletics Precinct, Palmer Park is the latest in a series of competition sites which also includes John Paul Jones Arena, Klockner Stadium, Disharoon Park, Lannigan Field, and the George Welsh Indoor Practice Facility (football). Three decades in the making, the Athletics Precinct has undergone a significant transformation, with Palmer Park signaling an important chapter in UVA's athletics legacy.
“I played at UVA over 30 years ago and we had literally nothing. So, to see how far the program and women's athletics have come in that many years is amazing," Lisa Palmer said. Combined with softball’s growing popularity, this new stadium and its exposure will impact both softball and women’s sports in vital ways at UVA. Softball is one of the most popular collegiate sports on television and the ACC Network will utilize the new facility to televise games in the future.
Keeping the Dream Alive
Before COVID-19’s rude awakening that cancelled the softball season like an unimaginable rain delay, Carla William’s prescient words for student athletes at the Ribbon-Cutting ceremony now ring truer than ever. Williams said, “Every setback is an opportunity for growth. Hold fast your dreams in softball and in life. Always believe in yourself and always believe in your dreams.”
We look forward to cheering on the team at Palmer Park next season, and we dream of the championships to come.
- Asa Eslocker contributed to this article.