To mark the opening weekend of the 2020 NCAA baseball season, several major programs are unveiling upgraded ballparks and player facilities, adding up to a solid series of improvements debuting this spring.
The 2020 college baseball season will be highlighted by a few new ballpark openings, including O’Brate Stadium for Oklahoma State University and Elliot Ballpark for UConn. Additionally, the University of Portland is scheduled debut major renovations to Joe Etzel Field in mid-May. We covered those facilities and noted their opening dates in a story last month, so in this feature we will provide an overview of some of the smaller improvements completed in time for the 2020 season—including enhancements to fan and baseball program amenities at several existing facilities.
LSU has kept Alex Box Stadium viable over the years with numerous upgrades, a trend continuing into 2020. This season will see the debut of the LSU Baseball Legacy Plaza, located near the home-plate entrance of the ballpark. The space features a statue of Skip Bertman, the program’s head coach from 1984-2001.
In addition to that improvement, Alex Box Stadium will debut an upgraded sound system, extended netting that goes beyond the dugouts and a statistics/lineup board in right-center field. This season will see the expansion of alcohol sales throughout the ballpark, as LSU will sell beer and wine throughout the entire facility.
Expanded alcohol sales will be implemented at several SEC baseball facilities this year, following guidelines approved by the conference last year. One of the schools following this trend is the University of Arkansas, which will sell beer and wine in public areas of Baum-Walker Stadium.
The University of Florida, meanwhile, is expanding its pilot program for beer and wine sales in limited concession areas into several spring sports facilities, including baseball’s McKethan Stadium at Perry Field. Tennessee is rolling out points of sale for beer sales in several locations at Lindsey Nelson Stadium, including an area along the first-base line on the plaza and the members-only MVP Room premium area. The MVP Room was upgraded over the offseason with new countertops, graphics and televisions. Protective netting was also extended farther down the foul lines, while Lindsey Nelson Stadium will also debut new and improved food options from food trucks located along the third-base line, where additional beer selections will also be available during league games.
Auburn’s Plainsman Park will feature beer and wine sales in the upgraded Tiger Terrace, a general admission space along the left-field line that offers a limited number of picnic and high-top tables, and where fans are encouraged to bring tailgate chairs. Additional improvements to the ballpark this year include an expanded Kids Zone and two private cabanas on the Plainsman Patio that will be available for rent during SEC games as part of a partnership with Tailgate Guys.
On the heels of a major multiyear renovation that was completed in 2019, Mississippi State will implement several improvements at Dudy Noble Field. Food trucks will be available near Adkerson Plaza in right field and just beyond the Left Field Lounge, part of a series of food and beverage improvements that includes four new Grab & Go stands, the addition of vendors Rev’s Pork Rinds and Patton Concessions Funnel Cakes, and the debut of chili cheese fries and chili cheese nachos at select concession stands. Mississippi State, in partnership with DyeHard Fan Supply, has added two expanded merchandise stands to the ballpark. In addition, the university has expanded the Left Field Lounge entrance gate.
Upgraded food and beverage offerings will also be available at Disharoon Park, where the University of Virginia will debut several new offerings. The Porch—located on the right field concourse—and will sell beer, wine and hard cider. The space will open 60 minutes before first pitch, and fans 21 and older will be given a bracelet following an ID check, allowing them to purchase two drinks at a time and up to four drinks during the game. All alcoholic beverages must be consumed inside the beverage garden. For new concession options, UVA will debut the Ballpark Burger, steak and cheese subs, jerk chicken nachos and jerk chicken sandwiches and Ben & Jerry’s milkshakes served in souvenir mason jars.
This season will also see the debut of improved player facilities and changes to the playing conditions at several universities.
Over the offseason, Wake Forest installed FieldTurf’s DoublePlay Classic system at David F. Couch Ballpark, replacing a previous turf surface that was installed in 2011. In the process, Wake Forest switched from clay mounds on the field and in the bullpens to a synthetic surface, a move that was made with the intention of allowing for frequent use in all weather conditions.
In October, the University of Texas cut the ribbon on J. Dan Brown Family Player Development Center at UFCU Disch-Falk Field—a 21,500-square-foot, two-story facility for its baseball program. Among the amenities in the facility are a new weight room, nutrition center, batting cages, bullpen, alumni locker room and office space.
Upgraded player facilities were at the center of renovations recently unveiled by Wichita State at Eck Stadium. In what it bills as Phase V of the Eck Stadium project, Wichita State debuted a 10,000-square foot performance facility that offers a strength and conditioning center, two athletic training rooms, student-athlete locker room, coaches locker room, media room, refueling station, classroom, offices for coaches and staff, equipment and laundry room and a ticket office.
In one of the most notable projects completed ahead of the 2020 season, Kansas State has added new player facilities and fan amenities at Tointon Family Stadium. At the center of this project is the upgraded space for the baseball program, including a facility that offers a new locker room, lounge area, theatre/meeting room space, training room, and fueling station. Along with the player facility upgrades, Tointon Family Stadium will debut several other improved amenities this season—including a new videoboard behind the right-field wall, a kids area down the third base line that is protected by safety netting, renovated press box, and expanded concourse. K-State completed these renovations as part of a $15-million project, which also included renovations to the adjacent soccer stadium.
Between the opening of new ballparks and major upgrades to existing facilities, the 2020 college baseball season will offer plenty for fans and players alike. Now that the season is getting underway, these facilities will be showcased in a major way and perhaps set the tone for future projects across the college baseball landscape.
Image courtesy K-State.
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