NCAA Division I Baseball is now in full swing, and the action will not be limited to college campuses. This year is a big one when it comes to college teams playing single games and tournaments in Minor League Baseball ballparks, as we cover college ball in pro facilities in this week’s Promotions Watch.
As it relates to facilities, the relationship between college and the minors has been evident for some time. Many ballparks—including Charleston, SC’s Joseph P. Riley Jr. Park and Richmond’s The Diamond—are home to both Division I squads and full-season minor-league teams. Programs like Duke split their home schedules between on-campus and professional ballparks. In the lower levels, West Virginia University and Penn State are among the colleges to have partnered with short-season clubs to build new facilities.
Another angle is annual conference tournaments, which this year will include the ACC Baseball Championship at Durham Bulls Athletic Park and the Big 12 Tournament at Oklahoma City’s Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark. The SEC is also set to play its annual championship at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium, former home of the Birmingham Barons (Class AA; Southern League).
While fans await the major tournaments, there will be plenty of college action to catch at minor league ballparks. Fluor Field, the home of the Greenville Drive (Low A; Sally League) was one of the first ballparks to open its gates for college action. The seventh annual First Pitch Invitational took place at the stadium from February 19-21, featuring Michigan State, Furman University, Presbyterian College, and a tournament newcomer in Fordham University.
Similarly, the University of Tennessee and Memphis launched their 2016 baseball seasons at the East-West Classic at AT&T Park, home of the Chattanooga Lookouts (Class AA; Southern League). Some pretty good baseball was played, with UT taking two of three from Memphis.
Another tournament to check out is the College Baseball Classic at Surprise Stadium, which is the spring training home of the Kansas City Royals and the Texas Rangers, and a host field in the annual Arizona Fall League. The College Baseball Classic will include Ball State, Oregon State, University of Minnesota, University of Utah, and Utah Valley. Fans in the Surprise area will be treated to even more action in the following days, as the ballpark is set to host the 2016 Surprise Big 12 / Pac 12 Challenge from February 25-29.
The end of February will also feature a tournament at Corpus Christi’s Whataburger Field, the home ballpark of the Corpus Christi Hooks (Class AA; Texas League). The 11th annual 2016 Kleberg Bank College Classic will take place from February 26-28. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi will host and participate in the event, which will also feature Michigan State, Texas State, and the University of Central Florida. Leading up to the minor league season, Whataburger Field will be home to numerous other local and regional amateur games, so be sure to check on the Hooks schedule for more information.
The Hooks will not be the only minor league team in Texas to feature a college matchup in their ballpark. The Frisco RoughRiders’ (Class AA; Texas League) Dr. Pepper Ballpark will feature a game between Texas Tech and Oral Roberts University on March 8. Texas Tech will have another contest in a minor league stadium on April 5, when they head to Midland’s Security Bank Ballpark—home of the Midland RockHounds (Class AA; Texas League)—on April 5 to face off against Abilene Christian University. It should also be noted that Texas Tech also has scheduled games at the state’s two major league ballparks, Houston’s Minute Maid Park and Arlington’s Globe Life Park.
March 4 will mark the beginning of the Cox Diamond Invitational, an annual tournament at Blue Wahoos Stadium, home of the Pensacola Blue Wahoos (Class AA; Southern League). The three-day event will feature Michigan State, along with Auburn, Troy University, and Southern Mississippi.
On March 29, a local rivalry matchup will take place in Nashville, where Vanderbilt University and Belmont University will square off at First Tennessee Park. When it opened last year as the home of the Nashville Sounds (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League), First Tennessee Park was lauded by many in baseball as a first-class facility, earning our praise along the way. With the first season under its belt, the ballpark will make its initial foray into college baseball by hosting these two Nashville-based universities. Vanderbilt will be the home team in this matchup.
April 23 will feature a very unique doubleheader in Greensboro. In a day/night twin bill, NewBridge Bank Park will host both a college and a professional game, starting with a matchup at 1:05 between N.C. State and N.C. A&T. The night cap will feature a Sally League game between the Greensboro Grasshoppers and the Lakewood BlueClaws, which will be followed by a post-game fireworks show. This will be a separate admission doubleheader. NewBridge Bank Park is no stranger to the college level, as it has hosted three ACC Tournaments since opening in 2005.
That is not the only trip to a professional stadium on tap for N.C. State. The Wolfpack will have a matchup against N.C. State Charlotte at BB&T Ballpark, home of the Charlotte Knights (Class AAA; International League) on March 29. From February 19-21, N.C. State will take part in the annual Caravelle Resort Tournament, which will include matchups against Old Dominion and Kent State at the Myrtle Beach Pelicans’ (High Class A; Carolina league) TicketReturn.com Field.
The Caravelle Resort Tournament will be a packed event, as it will be split into two parts and feature several notable programs. Among the other participating universities are Appalachian State, Coastal Carolina, Duke, Liberty, Marshall, Ohio State, and Virginia.
Duke will also be one of two opponents for Virginia Tech’s games at the Pulaski Yankees’ (Rookie; Appalachian League) Calfee Park. Virginia Tech’s first contest at Calfee Park on April 12 will feature a matchup against Radford University, with the Duke matchup following on April 22.
Whether you decide to catch just one of these games or take in an entire tournament, the spring slate of college games at professional stadiums will provide a unique experience. Not only will it showcase some of the NCAA’s best teams, but it will also give fans a chance to head back to their favorite minor league parks.