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Simmons Field: #WeCanDreamBig

There's a sea change underway in the approach to Mizzou Baseball's sub-SEC ballpark. Is it realistic and/or prudent to believe that "If We Build It, Success Will Come"?

Taylor Stadium
Taylor Stadium

That's former Mizzou pitcher and graduate assistant coach Travis Wendte putting the metaphorical pachyderm in a noose.

What we both were talking about is a Thursday interview on Columbia's ESPN radio affiliate, KTGR, with incoming MU Athletic Director Mack Rhoades.

During a discussion about his plans and priorities for facilities projects, Rhoades talked about the softball stadium, the south end project for football, and then he turned to Mizzou Baseball:

Baseball… What’s the next steps? Baseball in the SEC is so unbelievably competitive. For us to be a player in it in a consistent basis, we’ll have to do something with the baseball stadium.

Those comments were fairly non-specific, but they carried a lot more weight when combined with comments made by Chancellor Loftin two weeks ago, in an informal Q&A with local beat writers. Loftin was much more specific about his vision for the baseball stadium:

Clearly, our stadium needs to be looked at as well. As you grow in the SEC as I have, there’s a bit of a difference. The SEC is a very big baseball conference. I was able to complete at A&M, when I was there, a fairly large renovation and expansion of the stadium there that’s pretty spectacular. That was $24 million. It’s not a small-ticket item. It’s a thing that really is important in the SEC framework. To be able to recruit, it’s not just a matter of money for scholarships. It’s a matter of facilities, playing conditions, coaching, the whole mix goes into a decision a player makes on where they go to.(Columbia Tribune)

These comments represent a sea change in the way the administration of the University of Missouri and the MU Athletic Department have historically talked about the baseball facilities.

There are basically two philosophies about how to approach stadium expansion in college baseball, no matter what school or conference:

Plan A:

Gradually upgrade the current stadium piece by piece, bit by bit, commensurate with the pace of the growth of the program itself. The thinking is, there’s no need for a big SEC-quality 5,000+ capacity stadium for the average sub-1,000 crowd Mizzou Baseball is pulling in. This is the path Mike Alden's athletic department has been pursuing. Neither Alden nor anyone else in power has breathed a word about any other approach.

Plan B:

"If you build it, success will come. the thinking is, to compete in the SEC, MU needs an SEC-caliber ballpark. Also, a really top quality stadium will draw fans and will draw recruits, as Bowen Loftin said in the Q&A.  To put this is RockMNation parlance, THEY SUPPOSED TO BE SEC!!!

There are, of course major issues to consider before charging ahead with Plan B.

  • Where will the money come from? Loftin sort of established a price range with his comments about the $24 million Texas A&M spent on Blue Bell Ballpark. Mississippi State's major overhaul of Dudy-Noble Field is carries a $40 million price tag (take a look at this video of their plans). Perhaps Mack needs to talk to Max about a possible Scherzer Stadium.
  • Where would an SEC-class ballpark go? There may not be sufficient room on the current Taylor Stadium footprint, for a Triple-A or Double-A style stadium.
  • Would the new stadium provide protection from the inhospitable early Spring weather in CoMo? Roofing over the stands would be helpful for the fans, but some sort of dome or retractable roof would be required to ensure games can be played and tickets revenue can be received when it snows or rains or sleets or hails. Without spending the considerable extra cost for that sort of protection, a fancy new stadium will still be empty more often than anyone wants.
  • Will the baseball program itself be able to live up to the demands of a big-time ballpark? This is the big question, the one that really impacts whether you go with Plan A or Plan B in the first place. If you're going to take an aggressive approach to facilities, you need to have a coach who is aggressive in making strides to achieve and maintain a competitive program in the SEC. It will be up to Mack Rhoades to decide whether Tim Jamieson is the man to do that. Loftin said Jamieson's contract status is entirely up to the new A.D., and Mack Rhoades didn't bring it up (as no one would expect him to do until after this season is complete).

Ironically, the weekend immediately following Bowen Loftin's unprecedented comments about needing a baseball stadium that can compete with other SEC stadiums, I was at Taylor Stadium for a Friday night game against perennial SEC contender South Carolina. Granted, the temperature at game time was in the low 50's, most of the students had just left for Spring Break, and the MAC Wrestling championships were going on across the street, but the attendance at that game was a mere 786.

I was prompted to make a snarky twitter comment, to which the social media savvy chancellor replied, with his usual panache: