Improvements Coming to Jackie Robinson Stadium

Jackie Robinson Stadium, home of UCLA Baseball

UCLA Athletics today announced its plan to make improvements to the Gifford Sports Complex at Jackie Robinson Stadium, including the construction of a state-of-the-art baseball practice infield, to be known as Branca Family Field. The practice infield and improvements are designed both to serve as developmental tools for UCLA’s nationally-renowned baseball program and to provide recreational space and opportunities for Veterans and their families on the Veterans Affairs West Los Angeles campus.

The practice infield is to be named after legendary Brooklyn Dodger pitcher and three-time All-Star Ralph Branca, who had a successful 12-year major league career and was famously the first to embrace and welcome Jackie Robinson to Major League Baseball. Robinson, a standout UCLA student-athlete in four sports, U.S. Army Veteran and namesake for the Jackie Robinson Athletics and Recreation Complex at UCLA — whose number 42 is retired across all UCLA sports — was the first to break the color barrier that segregated Major League Baseball for more than 50 years. On Opening Day in 1947 — which was also Jackie Robinson’s major league debut — Branca lined up on the field beside Robinson, while other players refused. Branca became one of Robinson’s best friends and biggest supporters.

The Branca Family Field project is being made possible thanks in part to a generous $1 million commitment from prominent entertainment attorney and philanthropist John Branca, a graduate of the UCLA School of Law. John, who is Ralph’s nephew, is partner at the entertainment law firm Ziffren Brittenham, where his clients have included over 30 members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. John also serves on the board of directors of the Jackie Robinson Foundation.

“We are extremely grateful for John Branca’s exceptional vision and philanthropic support. Branca Family Field being side-by-side with Jackie Robinson Stadium — that significance should not be lost on anyone who knows the story of Ralph’s support and friendship with Jackie,” said Martin Jarmond, the Alice and Nahum Lainer Family Director of UCLA Athletics.

“Jackie Robinson and my uncle, Ralph Branca, were Brooklyn Dodgers teammates and lifelong friends,” said John Branca. “Ralph was in awe of Jackie’s courage and determination that historic day on April 15, 1947 when Jackie shattered Major League Baseball’s color barrier, because he knew what was taking place was so much bigger than the game itself and would resonate for generations. Ralph was honored to stand with Jackie. He was further inspired by Jackie’s commitment to social change and economic equality, and Ralph did his part in giving to others, leading the Baseball Assistance Team to raise money for retired and indigent players. As Jackie once said, a life is insignificant except for the impact it has on others. On behalf of the Branca family, I am honored to welcome the addition of Branca Family Field to UCLA’s Jackie Robinson Stadium.”

With Branca’s lead gift in place, the UCLA Athletic Department launched a comprehensive $3.8 million fundraising campaign to fully fund the new practice infield and facility improvements for UCLA Baseball and veteran recreation. Philanthropist Rhodine Gifford, whose late husband Jack was a Bruin baseball player, stepped up once again to make a $1 million commitment to the campaign. Gifford’s gift further enhances the Gifford Sports Complex at Jackie Robinson Stadium, which also includes the Jack and Rhodine Gifford Hitting Facility.

“We are grateful for all who helped to make Branca Family Field within the Gifford Sports Complex a reality. It will certainly enhance the growth and development of Bruin Baseball student-athletes for years to come,” said head baseball coach John Savage. “We thank John Branca for his longstanding vision and commitment to this project. To name this practice facility, in the shadows of Jackie Robinson Stadium, after Ralph Branca is fitting. We also thank Rhodine Gifford. The Gifford family has meant so much to our university and program and we are forever grateful to their commitment to Bruin Baseball.”

Private donations were raised from fans, alumni and friends of UCLA, as well as an incredible response by UCLA Baseball alumni who helped to make this vision a reality. These Major League Baseball stars, current and past, stepped up to contribute nearly $1.5 million to the practice infield: Gerrit Cole (2009–11), three-time All-Star, is on the mound. At third is four-time All-Star and 2002 World Series MVP Troy Glaus (1995–97). Two-time All-Star and two-time World Series Champion Brandon Crawford (2006–08) is at shortstop, with six-time All-Star and 2008 World Series Champion Chase Utley (1998–2000) at second. Rounding out the infield, at first base is 1992 National League Rookie of the Year and all-time Los Angeles Dodger home run leader Eric Karros (1986–88).

“We are extremely proud that some of the biggest names that have come through UCLA and Major League Baseball have generously contributed to this project. To have former players come back and financially contribute to the program that meant so much to their development and careers shows their love and gratitude towards this university and our baseball program,” said Savage. “We thank Troy and Ann Glaus, Chase and Jennifer Utley, Eric and Trish Karros, Brandon and Jalynne Crawford, and finally Gerrit and Amy Cole for their continued support of UCLA Baseball.”

“We would also like to thank Rhodine Gifford for her and her family’s long-standing commitment and support to UCLA and our athletics program. It’s always special to have former student-athletes give back, as it shows how exceptional and impactful the program has been to so many,” said Jarmond. “We appreciate our MLB players, baseball alumni and supporters who have helped make this project a reality. John Savage deserves much credit for his tireless work and vision for Bruin Baseball. This project would not have happened without his strong relationships and effort to see the project through.”

Additionally, a substantial donation towards the improvements was received in honor of Anne Marie and Dan Guerrero. The donation was made in order to provide recognition at Jackie Robinson Stadium for Guerrero, the UCLA Director of Athletics from 2002–20, UCLA alumnus and UCLA Baseball Hall of Famer.

The planned Jackie Robinson Stadium improvements will include construction of a new synthetic turf practice infield and bullpen, installation of new sports lighting, and modifications to the existing parking lot and site utilities. After meeting fundraising goals and receiving proper approvals from the VA and UCLA Capital Programs, construction will begin during the summer of 2021. No state or government funds are being used for the project. The planned improvements support the VA’s work to transform the VA West Los Angeles Campus into a vibrant community where Veterans can receive healthcare, benefits, employment, recreation and other supportive services, which Veterans have earned and deserve. The practice field may be used by Veterans for a variety of sports and recreational activities, including but not limited to baseball, soccer, jogging, yoga, softball and other activities.

UCLA and VA have partnered to serve Veterans for more than 70 years, starting with the formation of a medical affiliation between UCLA’s School of Medicine and the VA healthcare center after World War II. This growing partnership now includes the UCLA/VA Veteran Family Wellness Center, the VA/UCLA Center of Excellence on Veteran Resilience and Recovery, the UCLA School of Law Veterans Legal Clinic and numerous other programs and initiatives involving students, faculty and staff associated with many UCLA professional schools and departments.

Jackie Robinson Stadium is located on a 10.1-acre site off-campus just west of Interstate 405, on the Veterans Affairs West Los Angeles campus, and serves as the home venue for UCLA Baseball, which has appeared in five College World Series and won the 2013 National Championship. As the VA West LA campus is transformed into a place where more Veterans are housed, it will be increasingly utilized as a space for Veterans and their family members to enjoy various recreational activities, including attending UCLA baseball games.

Once complete, the upgrades will cement Jackie Robinson Stadium’s standing as one of the premier facilities in all of college baseball while deepening its role as part of a unique partnership between a nationally-renowned university and VA.

Originally published at https://247sports.com.

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