Mon County ballpark still ‘a work in progress’ on eve of opening day

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Concrete saws, pressure washers and the clanging of metal gates being installed. These were the sounds of last-minute preparations at the Monongalia County Ballpark.

The $21-million baseball stadium is scheduled to host its first game Friday when West Virginia faces Butler at 6 p.m., a debut already pushed back three weeks by construction delays. WVU athletics facilities manager April Messerly admitted the ballpark remains a work in progress, as evidence by hard-hat crews scurrying about Thursday, handling everything from installing door handles to paving an access road.

A few things to know about the new ballpark on Opening Day:

The stadium parking area beyond the outfield wall won’t be finished this season, meaning ticketholders should park at the adjacent lots at University Town Center.

Additionally, the school will operate shuttle service from the WVU Natatorium lot near the WVU Coliseum throughout the three games of opening weekend. Shuttles begin running at 4:30 p.m., Friday, 2:30 p.m., Saturday and 11:30 a.m. Sunday. Shuttles will run continuously up to game time and return fans to the WVU Natatorium lot for one hour after the conclusion of each game.

The park has 2,500 fixed seats in the partially covered grandstand, and a capacity that eventually will surpass 3,000 once the freshly seeded hillsides take root along each foul line. For this season, though, the grass remains off-limits.

The team store (think merchandise) won’t open along the third-base concourse until the minor-league Black Bears begin play in June.

The right-field clubhouse, which houses team locker rooms and baseball offices, also won’t be completed until summer, WVU announced.

Except for the clay pitching mound, it’s all synthetic turf with sand brushed into the base. Purists may lament baseball being played on the fake stuff, but infielders won’t miss the bad bounces they endured on Hawley Field.

“The difference between those two fields, I can’t even put in words,” said shortstop Taylor Munden. “Going from the ‘Hawley Hop’ that everybody talks about to turf, where everything stays down, it’s a dream come true.’’

For branding purposes, there’s also an enormous “flying WV” logo in center field.

The outfield walls are 325 feet down each foul line, 375 in the power alleys and 400 to straight-away center.

The ticket booth in left-center is guarded by a sort of “mini-monster” double wall, which is sure to rob a few home runs. It also briefly alters the angle of the wall, potentially creating odd caroms that Mountaineers coach Randy Mazey said gives the ballpark character.

“That wall will definitely play a huge factor, because opponents might not be able to react off of it,” added Munden. “You might see more triples and inside-the-parkers.”

Mazey and architects presumed the wind would be marginalized by the playing surface sitting at the base of a 58-foot embankment, and further negated by the multi-story medical building atop of the hill.

However, two rounds of BP revealed a virtual jet stream blowing out to left.

“Munden hit one the other day in batting practice,” Mazey said. “Some construction workers had their tape measures on their belt and measured it at 475 feet where it landed. So there’s going to be days where it plays pretty small.”

Munden sounded excited about “balls flying out of there,” but while the right-handed hitters feast, lefty Shaun Woods wasn’t so fortunate on his best swings.

“He’s got as much power as anybody on our team, and when the wind was blowing in from right, he couldn’t get one out,” Mazey said.

Overlooking Morgantown and surrounded by mountainscapes, catcher Ray Guerrini said the scenic backdrop is unmatched in the Big 12.

“It’s just beautiful,” he said. “I cant wait for everyone else to experience it.”

Added Munden of the view from the batter’s box: “Honestly, it’s kind of breathtaking.”


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