HUNTINGTON - For more than 50 years, promises have been made that Marshall University would have its own baseball stadium.
And, for half a century, those promises have come up empty.
That all could change very soon, however, as Marshall University is now in the silent phase of a fundraising campaign to implement plans for a stadium, which were first announced in February.
The fundraising goal for the new facility is $22 million, according to Marshall athletic director Mike Hamrick.
"You won't know the total cost of the baseball stadium until you put it out to bid and it comes back," Hamrick said. "The fundraising goal is about $22 million, so it's not a small undertaking. But neither was the Vision Campaign, either, and we hit $33 million there to build the soccer facility and indoor facility and everything associated, which has been a great addition to our community."
Plans for the new 3,500-seat baseball stadium were announced on February 21 when Hamrick joined Huntington mayor Steve Williams, Marshall president Jerome Gilbert, the Huntington Municipal Development Authority (HMDA), former Marshall baseball coach Jack Cook and other officials to announce that the city had bought the land previously occupied by Flint Pigments Group for the price of $750,000. The purchase came courtesy of $500,000 won by Huntington in the 2017 America's Best Communities competition and the other $250,000 came from the HDMA.
At the time of the announcement, Hamrick declared an ambitious goal of opening the facility in time for the 2021 baseball season. Although he admitted it won't be easy, Hamrick said he has his sights set on keeping that goal on schedule and giving Marshall athletics its first on-campus baseball stadium.
"We just have to make it happen," Hamrick said. "How many people have told you over the years, 'We need a baseball stadium?' I've heard it since back in 1976 when I walked on this campus. Now, it's out in front of us and we can see it."
While the fundraising campaign is on-going, athletics officials are busy going through plans and working with the architects of the facility to make sure that the facility is state-of-the-art and fits the needs of Marshall University.
Hamrick said the discussions with architects have been productive and work is moving forward toward a finalized set of plans.
"The architects have been here on at least four different occasions," Hamrick said. "They come in every month and take our ideas, go back and do their work and tweak things. I've told them that I want this stadium to be quality over quantity, but at the same time, we need a stadium that we will be able to put 3,500 people in it."
The 3,500-person capacity is an important number because that is what is required for Marshall University to host NCAA Regional competition, which is the goal of Hamrick and baseball coach Jeff Waggoner. Plans for the facility include a baseball complex, offices for coaches, a training room, an equipment room and lounge area for players, along with four locker rooms.
In terms of fan access, Hamrick said there will be club-level indoor-outdoor seating, luxury boxes, family-friendly areas for kids and many other features. Plans are also being talked about to include a drive-up area beyond the fence where fans can drive in, tailgate and enjoy the game from beyond the fence.
"All that is being designed right now for the spot," Hamrick said. "The good thing about the spot and where it's at is that it's very visible, very accessible and there is plenty of parking around it. We have that whole lot."
As plans start to finalize, Hamrick hopes to put the project out for bid in the late fall with hopes of breaking ground on the complex in spring 2020.
"It's contingent on the financing of it, which all comes from private donations, except for the support we received from the city to help get the land," Hamrick said. "Things are progressing well, but I'm emphasizing that we've got a long way to go to stay on our schedule. I'm just confident that this community, this area, Marshall alums, fans and supporters will all pitch in and make this thing a reality."