Matt Jones is the online sports director for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A double graduate of the University of Arkansas, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and voter for the Heisman Trophy.
New facility planned for Arkansas baseball
The exterior of Baum Stadium is shown prior to an NCAA super regional game between Arkansas and South Carolina on Saturday, June 9, 2018, in Fayetteville.
OMAHA, Neb. Arkansas is in preliminary discussions to construct an additional team facility at Baum Stadium.
Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn and athletics director Hunter Yurachek detailed the additions during separate interviews Saturday in Omaha, the site of the College World Series. The Razorbacks play Texas at TD Ameritrade Park on Sunday at 1 p.m.
The preliminary building plans are for an estimated 35,000- to 40,000-square foot facility that would include a new team clubhouse, new weight room and new coaches' offices. Other amenities would include a locker area for professional players who train in Fayetteville during the off-season and a museum area to house Arkansas' baseball trophies.
Yurachek said the multi-story facility, which might be known as the Baseball Performance Center, would likely be located beyond the outfield wall in right field, on the southwest side of the stadium grounds. The estimated price would be $20 million to $25 million and if all goes well it could be constructed sometime in 2020.
"What I found when I toured our facilities with Coach Van Horn early on in my tenure here is that Baum Stadium is an unbelievable facility for a fan to watch a game and the fan amenities are really strong," said Yurachek, who was hired last December, "but where we're falling behind is the amenities we have to offer our student-athletes - the clubhouse area, the training room, team lounge, team weight room, which are things our student-athletes use seven days a week."
The Razorbacks' weight room is currently located in an overflow area inside the university's indoor track center, adjacent to Baum Stadium. The clubhouse is on the north side of the stadium and has an entrance to the field through the first base dugout.
"When I talked to Hunter about this when he came in, he said, 'What do you want?' And I said, 'I want to improve things for the players,'" Van Horn said. "Baum Stadium is awesome and it's great when you walk up to it and it's full, but underneath it's average with what we're competing against and what's going on around the country, and especially in our league. When we walked the facility I didn't really have to say anything; Hunter saw.
"It's all about the players. We're excited about it because of all it would entail and give the stadium a great look."
The last major building project for baseball was completed in 2015 - an indoor practice facility that is shared with track and field, and was projected to cost around $10 million.
Baum Stadium last underwent a large-scale renovation prior to the 2007 season, which extended suites down both lines and increased the number of suites from 12 to 32.
Within the SEC, South Carolina and LSU have built new stadiums in the last decade and Kentucky and Florida are building new ones that will open in 2019 and 2020, respectively. Mississippi State's Dudy Noble Field is undergoing a multi-year, $55 million expansion that will be completed by the start of next year.
In the past six years, Ole Miss, Texas A&M and Alabama have completed eight-figure renovations at their stadiums. In many of those instances, upgrades were made to the team areas Arkansas hopes to address.
"We're just trying to keep up a little bit," Van Horn said. "I think the fans have shown that we can support it.
"We've got a lot of work to do to go out and raise money. It could be really special."
Yurachek said he hopes to have plans for the facility finalized in time for the November meeting of the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees, who must approve building projects.
"Everything is really positive about our baseball program," Yurachek said. "I think going out and fundraising this summer after a trip to Omaha - and we'll see what happens here in Omaha - we've got some people teed up that I think we can raise some money fairly quickly for this project."
Yurachek said he would like to incorporate some fans areas around the proposed construction in right field, perhaps a standing room-only area with table tops and barstools.
"It could be a home run porch where our fans could go out and sit and relax, and have a different vantage point," Yurachek said.
"It's something you see at Major League parks now. Because of the length of games, a lot of times you see fans move around and circumvent the stadium, and be able to watch from different aspects."
Yurachek called the proposed construction the "first phase" at the stadium. Later renovations could address more suites in right field, a concept proposed in a 2011 facilities master plan by Yurachek's predecessor, Jeff Long.
Last fall, Scott Varady, executive director of the Razorback Foundation, said there was a waiting list of 43 for suites at the stadium and that there has been no turnover within the suites since 2009. Suites inside the stadium could open up by moving the coaches' offices to another facility. The coaches' offices currently occupy two suites down the third base side.
By building on the right field side, Arkansas would move its home dugout from the third base side to the first base side to connect to the locker room and planned hitting bays and pitching areas in right field.
"You've just got to move where the space is," Van Horn said. "It would be a little weird and strange at first, but we're on the road in first-base dugouts all the time, so it doesn't matter."
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