ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - One of the largest donors in the effort to renovate the University of New Mexico's baseball field has pulled his money out of the project after being "dragged through the mud."
Johnny Cope had hoped to sit in the newly renovated field, named after him, and enjoy a Lobo baseball game but Governor Martinez's pressure to keep his name off the field has prompted Cope to withdraw his donations from the project.
The team has nearly raised the $3.3 million needed to start the first phase of renovations that were set to begin next month.
Ray Birmingham, Lobo Baseball Head Coach, said that phase includes bleachers, dugouts, Astro-turf, the infield and a new fence.
Currently the team plays at Isotopes stadium.
But Birmingham tells News 13 his team deserves more.
"Our kids are as good as good as anybody in the country," Birmingham said. "I want to provide something for the University of New Mexico baseball team that people can say they are proud of and not feel sorry for the baseball team."
Cope was an influential insider to former Governor Bill Richardson's administration and actually had a Rail Runner train named after him.
He had committed to donate $1 million to the field's renovation efforts, half from him and the other from his friends. The University had plans to name the new field after Cope.
That didn't sit so well with Governor Martinez.
Last year Martinez made it clear that UNM would face opposition from a state board that was considering pitching in $2 million to start the project if they named the field after Cope.
UNM bowed, agreeing not to name the park after Cope last September. The state funding consequently came through.
Cope's wife said the University's move was insulting as was the media coverage of the entire ordeal.
Ultimately she said no name, no money.
Birmingham did express his appreciation for the more than $150,000 already donated by the Cope family
"This is a big deal for me because this is a sport that New Mexico kids play," said Birmingham.
"There were several people who hoped that they could [donate] and just couldn't," Birmingham said.
The Governor's office said Martinez is against naming anything after someone who is still alive.
Coach Birmingham said he's now trying to help raise the $1 million need for the first phase, and the other $9 million it will take to eventually build new stands and locker rooms.
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