Southern pitcher James Fontenot remembers arriving for his first fall practice with the Jaguars a year and a half ago.
“I came here as a walk-on just to play and, when I got here, I was like, ‘Where do y’all get dressed? Where is the locker room?’ ” he said. “And they were like, ‘In the parking lot.’ And I was like, ‘OK, let’s go to practice.’ ”
So Fontenot and his new teammates did what Southern baseball players have always done: get dressed in the parking lot outside Lee-Hines Field, then go to work.
But when the Jaguars play their home and Southwestern Athletic Conference opener against Prairie View on Friday, the players will dress in the new locker room inside the new baseball building behind the left-field wall. Coach Roger Cador and assistants Dan Canevari and Jason Anderson will plot their pregame strategy in Cador’s new office.
It’s a working environment that Cador has been trying to develop for nearly the last half of his 30-year tenure as Southern’s coach.
“That’s a long time,” he said. “A lot of people would have become discouraged and given up, but I’m not that kind of guy. I wasn’t going to give up.”
Finally, the $1.1 million facility was built with state funds after countless delays Cador attributed to “bureaucracy.” The players started using their lockers during last fall’s workouts. The coaches have gradually transitioned from the F.G. Clark Activity Center.
The new building is officially called the “Southern University Baseball Support Facility,” but Cador hopes it will eventually have a less generic name — ideally one reflective of a donor who helps Cador and Canevari collect the more than $200,000 needed for an extension to the building, which will include an indoor batting cage, a meeting room, a players lounge and study area. That could be done as early as this summer.
Anderson remembers being a freshman in 1998 and hoping the locker room would be ready during his four-year career.
“We did think we were going to have something before we graduated, but we were just here to play baseball,” he said. “We were more interested in winning games and championships and leaving a legacy because we knew the history of the program. But after we were finished, we did look back and realized we overcame a lot of adversity.”
Senior pitcher Santos Saldivar said he was told when he arrived that the locker room would be ready by the end of his freshman season, but he was unfazed when it wasn’t.
“I was a freshman, so I couldn’t ask for much,” he said. “I just wanted to play. As long as I had cleats and a glove, I was OK with coming out here.”
On Friday, Saldivar, now the staff ace, will alter his pregame routine.
“It’s great because I don’t have to be in the dugout the whole time while we’re taking batting practice,” he said. “I can come in here and just sit in my locker and listen to music. I don’t have to be out there watching everything and getting more nervous.”
When the coaches started moving in, it became obvious that Cavenari, who has coached at LSU and Miami, was the only member of the staff who had ever worked in a place with a locker room before.
He lined up a series of hampers labeled for various types of laundry to be deposited in. The players used to have to carry their uniforms over to the Clark Center to drop them off to be washed.
“Now they put a little basket right there,” Fontenot said. “It’s so much more convenient and easier.”
Just above the hampers is a bulletin board featuring a practice schedule. Outside the entrance are benches for the players to leave their cleats.
“You don’t know these things unless you go through them,” Cavenari said. “It just makes the flow of operation a lot better. Everything is right here.”
When it came time to assign lockers, Cavenari said it was done numerically.
“You want to make sure it’s kind of a random thing,” he said. “You don’t want to do it by position or let the kids pick their lockers because then it becomes like a cafeteria in high school and you have cliques.”
It used to be when players had free time between class and practice, some would go back to their apartments, and some would hang out around Cador’s office.
“Everybody was kind of scattered,” Fontenot said.
Now, they all gravitate to the locker room.
“It’s really nice just to have somewhere that you can go — all day, every day,” Fontenot said. “Now, with the building, everybody is in one place. It feels like a team.”
Follow Les East on Twitter: @EastAdvocate.