Los Angeles, CA – The new practice field at Jackie Robinson Stadium is ready for action, marking a leap forward for the UCLA Bruins and the U.S. veterans who benefit from the facilities at UCLA’s Veterans Affairs West Los Angeles campus. It’s named the Branca Family Field in honor of the three-time All-Star legend Ralph Blanca – the Dodger who stood next to Jackie Robinson on April 15, 1947, the most remembered opening day in Major League Baseball history.
The new turf is a state-of-the-art AstroTurf Diamond Series playing surface that will support UCLA’s nationally renowned baseball program, as well as the school’s decades-long commitment to helping U.S. veterans.
UCLA has been supporting veterans for over 70 years through a unique partnership with the VA. It began with a post-World War II medical affiliation between UCLA’s School of Medicine and the VA healthcare center. Today, the school and VA offer multiple joint services and programs, including the Veteran Family Wellness Center and the Center of Excellence on Veteran Resilience and Recovery. All of these services are located on the VA West Los Angeles campus – which is also home to the 10.1-acre Jackie Robinson Stadium, the home field of the UCLA college baseball team. With the new AstroTurf field, it’s now also home to the official UCLA Bruins’ practice field.
This project completion marks a milestone for today’s team, but it also symbolizes an important piece of baseball history. Jackie Robinson – who was a U.S. Army veteran, along with being the first African American to play in Major League Baseball – is now honored alongside his former friend and fellow Brooklyn Dodger, Ralph Branca.
The training field is part of a larger multi-million dollar stadium grounds upgrade, made possible by several generous and well-known donors. John Branca, Ralph Branca’s nephew, eminent entertainment attorney, and graduate of UCLA School of Law, donated $1 million. Philanthropist and widow of UCLA baseball star Jack Gifford, Rhodine Gifford, also donated $1 million. Jack Gifford was elected to the UCLA Baseball Hall of Fame in 1990, and he, along with his wife, has shown tremendous support to UCLA baseball over the years.
Other major donors include current and former Major League Baseball stars Gerrit Cole, Troy Glaus, Brandon Crawford, Chase Utley, and Eric Karros. All are former Bruins players.
Through 17 seasons as UCLA’s head coach, John Savage has established the Bruins as a consistent national championship contender. Savage helped UCLA reach college baseball’s pinnacle in 2013, as the Bruins won their first-ever NCAA baseball title. Under his guidance, UCLA has advanced to the postseason in 12 of the last 16 seasons, hosting an NCAA Regional in six of the last 10, including four-straight from 2010 through 2013.
“The new practice facility at Jackie Robinson Stadium is a game changer in so many ways,” said Savage. “Our ability to use the field for all kinds of development for our players is essential. The AstroTurf field provides opportunities and capabilities that our players didn’t have in the past.”
Savage completed his 17th season as UCLA’s head coach in 2021. He is currently the third longest-tenured head coach in UCLA baseball program history and has gone 589-382-1 in the past 17 seasons.
“We are using the field for ground balls, team defense, base running, bunting, team offense, pitcher’s fielding practice and bullpen sessions,” added Savage. “The quality of the turf is terrific. It’s like playing on a natural field. The speed, the hops, the play-ability is at a very high level.”
In 12 trips to the postseason at UCLA, Savage has compiled a 44-25 record (.638 winning percentage), recording the most postseason victories of any head coach in program history.
With Savage at the program’s helm, UCLA advanced to the College World Series in 2010, 2012, and 2013, and reached the best-of-three championship series in 2010 and 2013. UCLA defeated Mississippi State, two games to none, at the 2013 College World Series. In 2010, the Bruins advanced to the championship series for the first time in school history, falling two games to none to South Carolina.
Savage’s strong work with UCLA’s program has been equally evident in player development and the MLB Draft. Over his 17 seasons in Westwood, UCLA has produced 117 draft selections. Under Savage, the Bruins led or co-led all NCAA schools in draft selections in both 2019 (13) and 2021 (10), and produced a first-round draft pick in three consecutive years (2019-21) for the first time in program history. In addition, he has coached 22 players at UCLA that have competed in the major leagues.
Having entered the synthetic turf industry over 50 years ago with a new baseball field at the Houston Astrodome, this project is also important to AstroTurf.
“We’re honored to create the new training field at the Jackie Robinson Stadium. We put the best into our turf systems, and we know this field is going to be a good thing for everyone who gets to play on it,” says Pat Cassa, a regional sales manager for AstroTurf.
The Branca Family Field is an AstroTurf RootZone Diamond Blend OPS system with exceptionally durable slit film fibers and an organic infill. Combining RootZone technology and AstroTurf’s cutting-edge synthetic clay and grass surfaces, players can count on enhanced ball play, realistic sliding distances, and advanced temperature control.
The UCLA Bruins – who won the National Championship in 2013 and are already off to a strong 2022 season with wins over Texas and Oklahoma, will train on the all-weather field year-round. The field will also serve as a recreational space for veterans and their families.
With this brand-new turf, the Jackie Robinson Stadium will continue holding its position as one of the top facilities in college baseball, while also representing one of the most important stories in the history of the sport.
For athletes and sports enthusiasts, AstroTurf® has redefined the way the game is played. The brand offers advanced, multi-sport, and specialized synthetic turf systems with proprietary engineered technologies. A growing number of high schools, colleges, professional sports teams, and municipalities continue to select AstroTurf-branded products for their premium quality, technical superiority, and safety. To learn more, visit AstroTurf’s website at www.astroturf.com.