MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Flanked by a heavy-hitting lineup of university administrators and government dignitaries, West Virginia baseball coach Randy Mazey dug his bat-shaped shovel into the dirt for what he called “one of the biggest moments in this program’s history.”
Thursday’s ceremonial groundbreaking for the $16 million Monongalia baseball stadium drew about 100 onlookers to the scenic overlook at University Town Centre. WVU projects to play its first game at the stadium during the 2015 season. Adorned in flying “WV” hard hat, Mazey called it “one of the prettiest settings in all of college baseball,” and one that will no doubt bolster recruiting.
“It’s kind of real now—to this point it has been drawings and artists’ renderings,” he said. “To walk kids and families through an actual facility is when it’s really going to start taking effect.”
The new 7,000-capacity ballpark will replace 42-year-old Hawley Field, where metal bleachers seat only 1,500, the dugouts are spartan and fan amenities lacking. West Virginia split last season’s inaugural string of Big 12 series between Charleston and Beckley. The Mountaineers overcame the excessive travel to compile a 33-26 record, finishing third in the nine-team conference after being picked last.
Mazey said the need for a new ballpark was emphasized when he took the job before last season.
“It was a necessity to have a better facility,” Mazey said. “With the move to the Big 12, we just couldn’t compete in recruiting kids, or from a fans standpoint, with what he had. I think we’re going to surpass a lot of teams in this league with the facility we’re building.
“With over 100 years of baseball, this has to be one of the biggest moments ever in this program’s history. This will create a whole new level of excitement for our program.”
Athletics director Oliver Luck thanked the spate of legislative attendees—including state Speaker of the House Tim Miley and Senate President Jeff Kessler—for helping enact the tax-increment financing plan during an April special session.
“We appreciate all the work you’ve done this past session to make this a reality,” said Luck. “We took it into extra innings, if you remember, but you kept your calm, stayed steady at the plate and knocked it out of the park.”
Grading and site-preparation were ongoing during Thursday’s ceremony. The ballpark is being constructed on the site of a former coal mine, a project Luck credited to vision and cooperation between city, county and state officials.
WVU plans to return three of four Big 12 home series to Hawley Field in 2014, but throughout the season Mazey and the design team will be overseeing progress at the new ballpark.
“We want to take care of the fans first, because they help you win games,” he said. “I want to make it a place where people can come and they’re taken care of from the parking situation to concessions to ushers.
“One of the big issue we have is keeping people warm in the spring time up here. So we’re trying to address that issue as well, giving them a place where they can tuck themselves away for an inning or two, rejuvenate and then get back out into the elements.”