Time to build baseball stadium may have come
The average freshman at Marshall University is probably 18 or 19 years old. Since that freshman’s grandparents were in diapers, fans of Marshall’s sports program have wanted a baseball field on or near campus.
Marshall has made progress in many ways the past three or four decades. On the bricks-and-mortar front, Henderson Center, Joan C. Edwards Stadium, the Robert C. Byrd Biotechnology Science Center, the Arthur Weis-berg Family Applied Engineering Complex, the Joan C. Edwards Performing Arts Center, Dot Hicks Field, two parking garages and other buildings have been added while baseball fans have waited for a stadium.
On the academic side, Marshall has added programs in applied engineering, forensic science, pharmacy and others. Again, as baseball fans kept saying they wanted a stadium on or near campus.
It’s not hard to make the case in principle for a baseball field with a stadium. Marshall’s baseball team plays its non-conference home games at George T. Smailes Field, located at the YMC A Kennedy Center on W/a. 2 north of Huntington. Its home games within Conference USA are played at Appalachian Power Park in Charleston and Epling Stadium in Beckley. The team cannot play conference games at the Huntington field because it does not meet Conference USA regulations. At Power Park, Marshall must schedule around the West Virginia Power, meaning oftentimes the team does not get to practice or warm up on the field. Beckley is more than two hours away.
Things may be moving in the direction of a new stadium, although nothing is certain. On Oct. 19, Marshall Director of Athletics Mike Hamrick announced an architect had been hired to design a stadium to be built along 5th Avenue across from the former Flint Group pigment plant.
Nothing is certain. The Huntington Municipal Development Authority has an option to buy the property, but the land is still owned by the Flint Group.
The wait for the baseball stadium is similar to the wait for something to happen on downtown Huntington’s Superblock. That nine-acre site between 3rd Avenue and Veterans Memorial Boulevard was razed in 1970 in expectation of a big new urban development project. That dream had many false starts and dashed hopes until Pullman Square opened in November 2004.
Marshall baseball fans have waited decades for a stadium. It is an embarrassment to them and to the university that a school in Conference USA does not have its own field or its own stadium for home games. Playing games an hour or two from campus and from the team’s fan base does little to encourage excitement in the sport or a connection with fans.
If Marshall has its academic house in order and if students’ needs are being met, it could very well be time for a baseball field near campus.
All schools face problems every day, from shortages of parking spaces to recruitment and retention of students. Last week. President Jerome Gilbert told the Board of Governors that freshman enrollment this semester decreased by 123 compared with fall semester last year. Out-of-state freshman enrolled increased by one, but in-state freshman enrollment fell by 124. Marshall undoubtedly needs to step up its game in making itself more attractive to in-state students.
It’s hard to imagine Marshall’s football team playing its home games at Fairfield Stadium or the basketball teams playing at Veterans Memorial Field House. Both facilities are long gone, partly because they were outdated and no longer met the needs of modern collegiate sports programs.
Older fans have fond memories of those venues. Neither was on campus, although both were close. It’s time for the baseball team to have an on-campus facility comparable to those of other sports if funding can be found and if a business case can be made to support one.