HERD ZONE MCGILL: Baseball stadium unveil sets up crucial next step

Updated 4 weeks ago Special to HNN Provided by Herd Zone
HERD ZONE MCGILL: Baseball stadium unveil sets up crucial next step

By Chuck McGill

HerdZone.com

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Marshall University's new baseball stadium has long been a field of dreams for so many people.

The plans for the new park, which were unveiled in an announcement made by the City of Huntington and the school Thursday afternoon, are the "first step" in creating a new home for Marshall baseball, according to President Jerry Gilbert. "It will be the best baseball stadium in West Virginia," MU athletic director Mike Hamrick promised.

"I'm overcome," an emotional Jack Cook said through a cracking voice to the large crowd gathered on the concrete lot at the corner of 5th Avenue and 24th Street, a crow hop's throw from where the stadium will be built.

Cook, 92, amassed 422 wins in 23 seasons as Marshall's baseball coach. He was the school's team captain in 1949 and returned as coach in 1967, running the program through the 1989 season. He has long wished for a permanent home for the program.

In the early days, Marshall played on what is now Buskirk Field on campus, as well as Camden Park and Clyffside Park. Cook fell in love with baseball at League Park, which was destroyed in the 1937 flood. The school's baseball team has played at the nickel plant in Guyandotte. They've played at St. Cloud Commons, which used to come under water when the Ohio River rose and backed up the creeks. When the water receded, the first job was to collect the dead fish rotting on the field.

Baseball games have been played at University Heights, the Route 2 field, Appalachian Power Park in Charleston and Epling Stadium in Beckley. They've even had games on high school fields at Winfield, Wayne, Boyd County, Louisa and who knows where else?

"We played every place," Cook said.

Judging by Thursday's large turnout, this announcement resonated with a community that has long-craved peanuts and Cracker Jack on a picturesque spring night without a lengthy car ride to see the Herd.

Cook's emotions bubbled to the surface because, as he mentioned several times, a dream born during his lifetime might be realized during his lifetime.

"People said it would never happen, and there were many who said it was promised before and finally we are here," Gilbert said. "It's been a long time coming."

Thirty years ago this April – Cook's final season as the Herd's head coach – a beloved baseball movie, "Field of Dreams," debuted. One of the most widely repeated lines from the film goes like this: If you build it, they will come. Certainly, when this 3,500-seat, multi-million-dollar stadium is complete, the fans will fill the seats.

But, that cannot happen without the next, most challenging step in the process: If you want it built, dollars must come.

Hamrick outlined what he called an "ambitious" timeline Thursday afternoon. He wants to start building a year from now, and he envisions the stadium being ready for the 2021 baseball stadium. The athletic department has launched a fundraising campaign, The Herd Rises, which will require $22 million. Securing the land, made possible thanks to the City of Huntington and $500,000 from the America's Best Communities prize, is only the first piece.

The rest will require a team effort.

"Mike Hamrick and the Big Green are going to be reaching out to all of you now to secure the future of Marshall baseball by you contributing to this project," Gilbert said to Thursday's crowd. "Come join with us to build a baseball stadium."

The expectation is there will be no shortage of people who are ready to assist. The lack of a baseball stadium has long been a sore spot for Marshall supporters. Athletic department officials have endured sharp criticism. Promises have been made and broken so many times.

Now, after Mayor Steve Williams acquired the eight acres of land and stadium's renderings were displayed at the event and spread quickly via social media, doubts need to fade. This is – finally – real.

"You wouldn't be here today if you didn't believe in it," Hamrick said. "We're going to call upon you to help us, each and every one of you, to make this a reality."

Chuck McGill is the Assistant Athletic Director for Fan/Donor Engagement and Communications at Marshall University and a seven-time winner of the National Sports Media Association West Virginia Sportswriter of the Year award. In addition to HerdZone.com's Word on the Herd, McGill is the editor of Thundering Herd Illustrated, Marshall's official athletics publication. Follow him on Twitter (@chuckmcgill) and Instagram (wordontheherd).

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