New ballpark gives WVU better chance to compete
It’s still Morgantown, with its windblown hills, snow flurries into April and mostly barren recruiting grounds.
It’s still the Big 12 Conference with the baseball-loving likes of Texas, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Baylor, Texas Christian and Oklahoma to compete against.
But where once upon a time a half-century ago West Virginia University could trundle out to its patchwork baseball field . . . throw its gloves onto the bumpy infield . . . send out its players from Red Jacket, Princeton, Bakerton and War . . . and beat the daylights out of the Southern Conference teams it faced, that same scenario is now far removed from reality.
The Mountaineers took for granted they were going to the NCAA District 3 tournament in Gastonia, North Carolina. Coach Steve Harrick’s teams literally dominated the Southern Conference.
Now days it’s taken for granted West Virginia has the hardest of tasks when it sees any of the Big 12 schools; the ones with the 8,000-seat stadiums/palaces, the gold mines of high school teams waiting to be recruited and the long histories of success at the national level.
Nearly every one has College World Series teams in their storied histories. All eight of them with better spring weather, better facilities and more interest from big-buck donors, students and their communities. Iowa State doesn’t sponsor baseball in its frozen March/April corn fields.
West Virginia is trying its best to shorten the competitive distance between it and the others.
West Virginia is building a baseball complex across the river from its campus. Over the Star City bridge in Granville. It’s been given the name “Monongalia County Ballpark” or “Baseball Stadium Complex at University Towne Center”. Anytime you see the letter “e” on the word “town” you know politicians have been at work.
Ground on the new “towne” facility was broken on October 17, 2013.
It won’t hold the number of fannies that Texas can seat. Or nearly all the others in the Big 12.
But it will seat 3,500 . . . have club seating for the donors of the Ben Franklin 100’s and the U.S. Grant 50’s . . . have chairback seating, a picnic area and berm seating for those with young children whose minds wander at times away from the games someone else is playing.
It will feature artificial turf just in case the snow needs to melt. There will be covered, in-ground dugouts. Covered dressing rooms (and not the vehicles the players dressed in after arriving at old Hawley Field) will delight the teams.
The field’s dimensions are fair to both pitchers and batters alike. It’s 325′ down both foul lines, 375′ in both power alleys and 400′ to straightaway center.
For those grousing about the money being spent on a ballpark in Morgantown of all things, the school is also building an Advanced Engineering Research Building, an Agricultural Science Building, an Art Museum, the College Park Redevelopment area, Evansdale Crossing, a Health and Education Building, the Law Center Addition, the Puskar Stadium Concourse, the Puskar Team Auditorium and University Park, which is additional housing in the Evansdale area.
The politicians are proud as peacocks about the new ballpark. So are developers and WVU athletic administrators.
When ground was broken back last October, on hand were the team of cooperative collaborators — including state and local legislators, the Monongalia County Commission, the city father(s) of Granville, and Monongalia County View Developers. The ballpark project was lauded as “one of the best collaboration efforts seen in the state of West Virginia”.
Politicians had their backs patted nonstop when they sent self-praise to the heavens as they talked about the special legislative session that it took to work out all the loose ends and final details.
The ballyard should be ready when the Mountaineers begin the 2015 season.
The Mountaineers have given themselves some chance to compete more evenly with the high-powered, nearly endless treasuries of their Big 12 brethren . . . right across the river in Granville.