NORFOLK, VA (WTKR) – 2021 has been a historic year for Old Dominion’s baseball program. It also showed where the program needed to go.
The Monarchs grabbed the No. 16 national seed, earning the right to host an NCAA Regional. However, the facilities were deemed sub-par and not up to standard for holding the first round of the tournament, so ODU was forced to hold its region in Columbia, South Carolina.
“Not being able to host because the facility wasn’t enough, I think was an eye opener for everyone,” Old Dominion head baseball coach Chris Finwood noted.
With that in mind, a plan was unveiled last December to renovate the Bud Metheny baseball complex. It would improve the locker room facilities, press areas and give him more bells and whistles. The cost would be around $20 million. Priority Automotive Founder, President and CEO Dennis Ellmer, who is a big supporter of Monarch Athletics, remembers some of the obstacles.
“We thought we had some really big donors lined up,” Ellmer recalls. “They kind of failed and I could see the disappointment on some people’s faces at Old Dominion who had worked so hard to make this happen.”
After discussing it with his family, Ellmer stepped in. He and his wife, Jan, informed ODU President Dr. Brian Hemphill that they would be donating $2.5 million to the ballpark renovation project.
“He was elated, openly elated,” the Priority exec said. “I was just glad they were able to make it happen.”
Ellmer is generous with his funds. A son of a navy, he rose from the Ocean View section of Norfolk to the top of the business world. He and his family donate to many charities and to Old Dominion academic and athletic causes.
“Giving a gift like this, for us, is unprecedented,” Finwood said.
“It’s important to give and give back to the community you live in,” Ellmer said. “I hope everyone knows that no matter the size of the gift, it matters.”
His gift to the Monarch baseball team is a big step forward. Finwood estimates that the fundraising effort is more than three-quarters complete. Renovation will be crucial to keep pace with enemies of the Monarchs’ Sunbelt, where many baseball facilities are state-of-the-art.
“We don’t need the best facility, we just need a better facility and we’re working hard to get there,” the head coach said.
“Competition is getting a bit more intense in the Sun Belt, as we also see with the football program, so it will be exciting,” added Ellmer.
It will also be exciting for Finwood to oversee the transition to a new facility, as well as for Ellmer and his family to watch baseball at a park named after them. The new stadium will be known as the Ellmer Family Baseball Complex.
“Being part of a major renovation of a new ballpark is a nice little feather in your cap when you’re in charge of the program,” Finwood noted. “It also means you do pretty well where people want to support you.”
“They deserve it,” Ellmer added. “[I] I can’t wait for it to be built, I can’t wait for us to get back there and start next season.”
A schedule for the completion of the project has not yet been finalized as it awaits state approval.