Dudy-Noble Field and baseball have a very special place in the heart of MSU fans everywhere. It has seen countless special moments in MSU history- Regionals, Super Regionals , Will Clark and Rafael Palmeiro- AKA Thunder and Lightning- raining home run balls into the Left Field Lounge, Burke Masters grand slam, Brooks Bryan stealing a Washington home run off of someone’s grill. And more currently John Cohen’s Bulldogs have seen the introduction of the outfield roll call and the Dudes student organization. Not to mention more great baseball players- Hunter Renfroe, Chris Stratton, Jonathan Holder and the list goes on and on. Dudy-Noble Field is a wonderful place- how many baseball stadiums has John Grisham written about after all? But as much as we all love Dudy-Noble Field and the memories, it is time to upgrade the old ballpark.
Now, at this point some of you may be thinking that I have lost my mind. Some of you may be thinking that it’s simply a matter of extending the grandstand. And some of you will probably give me a high five. But here’s the reality- Scott Stricklin is about to have some meetings with MSU fans about Dudy-Noble. SOMETHING is about to happen. So, what I’m going to do is tell you what I think should happen to Dudy-Noble Field to make it an even better place and return it to its rightful place as THE best college baseball stadium in America.
“Whoa- wait a minute- Dudy-Noble isn’t the best college baseball stadium in America?” Sadly, yes this is true. Even worse- it may not even be the best college baseball stadium in Mississippi right now. (That hurt to type that) And sure- it’s very subjective and it’s quite possible that we still have a better atmosphere than the other people out there, and we do host a regional as well as anyone. But I’m talking about amenities here. What has happened is MSU set the bar as far as college baseball stadiums go in 1987. When the other schools in the SEC saw what we were doing and how successful we were, they started to copy and/or build an even nicer stadium. As a result, Dudy-Noble in its current state has become outdated.
How do I know this? As an avid baseball fan, I have attended games at baseball stadiums from Seattle to New York. Among these- Busch Stadium III in St. Louis, Safeco Field in Seattle , Kaufman Stadium in Kansas City, the new Yankee Stadium and Citi Field in New York, as well as several minor league stadiums throughout the country including Omaha, San Antonio, Memphis, New Orleans, Birmingham, Ogden Utah, and Yakima Washington among others. Oh yeah- and I almost forgot Trustmark Park in Pearl, Mississippi. As you can see, most of the stadiums I have been to are newer stadiums- or at least newer than the grandstand at Dudy-Noble Field. Just to give a reference point so that you know that I’m not shooting from the hip here and the only places I go to watch baseball are Tupelo High School, Meridian Community College and Mississippi State. I have experienced the new trends in baseball stadium design first hand.
As I have previously mentioned, the current grandstand was built in 1987. In 1991, the New Comiskey Park opening in Chicago and while that really was the first retro-park, Camden Yards in Baltimore, designed by MSU grad Janet Marie Smith is the one that really got the ball rolling in 1992. Today’s stadiums have good sightlines which make for comfortable viewing of baseball games and also seats that are closer to the action. Most stadiums have open concourses where fans can still view the game if they are in line buying a hot dog or in line to go to the bathroom. The open concourses have large open areas that also allow fans to have the option to sit or stretch their legs if they choose to. Ballpark food has now expanded to include things such as prime rib, sushi and Chik-Fil-A. And while these stadiums are new, they also embrace the past of the teams that play there.
As many of you know, I am a huge St. Louis Cardinals fan. In 2006, the Cardinals opened their brand new stadium, Busch Stadium III. Prior to the opening of the new stadium, some Cardinals fans were hesitant about the new stadium. Some saw the stadium as unnecessary, and some lamented the fact that many great Cardinals moments happened in Busch II. What’s very interesting to me in talking to MSU fans about Dudy-Noble, I am hearing some of the exact same things. My personal plea to you is to embrace change and be open to it. Because the cold hard fact is if we do not update Dudy-Noble Field as it is, it will start to become a hinderance. As Mississippi based band Blind Melon says in their song “Change”- Life is hard- you have to change”. And that is very much true in baseball. If we do not change, we risk losing fans who do not want to sit in uncomfortable bleachers. We risk recruits seeing a stadium that needs updating at what is supposed to be a “baseball school”- and that can send a mixed message. One very interesting comment I have heard is about the “magic that is in the grandstand” and then being worried about the magic being gone. Folks, let me tell you something- the magic is in the players that make the plays. The magic is in the people cheering the team on. There is absolutely zero correlation between success and a facility. Since the Cardinals have moved into their new stadium, they have won two World Championships- and have been to the postseason almost every year since the stadium was built. The New York Yankees won the World Series in their first year of the new Yankee Stadium. What about MSU? The legendary 1985 MSU baseball team was pre-grandstand. The 1971, 1979, and 1981 MSU College World Series teams were also pre-grandstand. The SEC Championships in the 1960’s? Pre-grandstand as well.
At Mississippi State- when it comes to baseball, we should strive to be THE best in the state, THE best in the SEC, and THE best in the nation. So, what do we need to do? What are the issues?
I think one of the stickiest issues is with the people that have lifetime contracts at the current Dudy-Noble Field. In the past, I have been very vocal about people that have those contracts that don’t show up to the games. But at this time, I want to be vocal about those that DO come out to the games no matter what. The bottom line is the people that have been coming out to the games all these years, they in my opinion deserve good seats in a new grandstand. The seating should be based on priority and attendance. And I would hope that Scott Stricklin treats the fans in this category the way they deserve to be treated- which is very well. Personally, if you show up to every game- from me, thank you!
Now back to something I previously mentioned- the question of why we can’t just simply extend seats down to the foul poles and leave the grandstand alone. It’s all about that word again-sightlines. The most simple way I can put it- if we did that, it would be a very uncomfortable experience for those sitting in those seats because of how you would have to turn your body to watch the game. In other words, it would be a huge mistake that would likely lead to us tearing down the grandstand anyway and a lot of money spent on the chiropractor after Super Bulldog Weekend. My friend who goes by the Internet screen name engie has some illustrations that may explain this better or further my point. He knows a lot more about this than me- he is an engineer and former high school and junior college baseball player that has taken an interest in ballpark design as a hobby. The comments on the illustrations are his thoughts. He very much loves MSU baseball as well.
First up, Dudy-Noble Field
LSU’s new Alex Box Stadium
University of Arkansas Baum Stadium
University of South Carolina’s Carolina Stadium
And finally- Swayze Field at Ole Miss.
Now that I have saved your neck, let’s talk about what else should be done at Dudy-Noble Field. I like the idea of an open concourse much like Trustmark Park or Autozone Park where we won’t have to miss a pitch and we can still get a drink. This would also provide a shaded area, which would have been immensely helpful during the Clemson Super Regional. Of course, as the current grandstand sits a concourse would be impossible to include at this time. The concession stands would be located in the concourse and we could have a variety of dining options. The ballpark traditional items should be served- such as hot dogs, pizza, and etc. But we could also serve something unique to Starkville such as Lil’ Dooey, we could serve catfish, and we could also have healthy options as well such as grilled chicken sandwiches with carrot sticks and/or a fruit cup and things like that. Bathrooms would also be located on the concourse, and these should be made to be accessible and comfortable. Granted, I have only been in the men’s restroom at Dudy-Noble and I can say it’s pretty cramped. Premium seating should continue to be a part of MSU baseball as there is a demand for that. A new grandstand would be a great opportunity to upgrade the current luxury boxes. At one time, the luxury boxes would actually take on water when it rained. Hopefully that has been corrected, but if it hasn’t- this would be a great time to do so. One thing that many fans do not see is the press box. Dudy-Noble is one of the worst in the SEC. This is yet another area that needs to be improved.
As far as the exterior of the stadium, it would be great if we could brick the outside of Dudy-Noble Field and make it look really nice. Maybe even pattern it after the exterior of Carnegie Hall. Also, the ticket window is extremely plain. We need a grand entrance to Dudy-Noble Field with nice distinctive gates that lets people know that they are about to enter a special place. We could have a statue or some statues of MSU greats such as those with retired numbers on the outside of the ballpark. One thing that I would love to see is a MSU baseball museum. Many Major League teams have a museum such as this on site or near their stadium. Delta State has a museum for Boo Ferris as well. In fact this weekend for homecoming, MSU has dedicated the walkway leading up to Dudy-Noble Field in the honor of Boo Ferris. Perhaps this is a preview of what is to come? A baseball museum attached to the Palmeiro Center would be a great thing for MSU. Fans would go to it during the baseball season as well as the off season. And what a great place for recruits to see some of what makes MSU baseball special. And yes, a museum could be a separate project.
Now, let’s talk about the Left Field Lounge. First of all, I think the Left Field Lounge is one of the greatest traditions at MSU. I believe it should stay in some way shape or form- and that form needs to include the ahem…Sanford and Son look that makes it special and unique. Let’s be honest- it’s just awesome. It is a legitimate sports destination that has gotten a lot of press over the years. That said- I don’t believe it should be totally immune from change either. There needs to be some give and take between the Left Field Lounge fans and the school administration. Another terrace behind the original Left Field Lounge could be added so that more fans can have their own lounge to sit in and make the Left Field Lounge even bigger and better. One issue I have heard is that some of the people that sit in the Left Field Lounge have grandstand tickets but they just sit in the outfield. That’s an issue to me because that leaves empty seats in the grandstand. I have heard that the safety of some of the rigs is possibly in question as well. There should be some minimum safety standards and the school could have someone check the rigs out for safety before the season and try to fix any potential problems. The Left Field Lounge should be considered premium seating and there should be a reasonable fee for having a rig in the Lounge. One way or the other- the Left Field Lounge should remain a part of MSU baseball.
One of the things that I like about MSU baseball that is new is the formation of the student group- The Dudes. The students need their own section that is kind of theirs- and I think maybe right field is already sort of that area as it is. I think a hill or something for them would be good. The one thing I would say is to not be strict about it though. If there is a fraternity that has had a rig in the Left Field Lounge for years- let’s keep it where it is rather than force them to move. Keep the student area laid back. A new scoreboard would be nice as well. Have an HD screen and maybe a section that has real time “out of town scores” rather than occasionally wait every three innings for an update. The baseball team intro videos the past few years have been very good- so we need to continue that. One thing I have heard thrown around that I’m not real wild about is a playground for the kids. To me, that’s as much if not more of a liability than anything in the Left Field Lounge.
So, now the part that no one likes- how much is all of this going to cost? My guess is 40 million dollars. Alabama is about to renovate their stadium for 30 million dollars. It cost LSU 36 million to build a new stadium, South Carolina’s cost them 35.6 million, and Texas A&M was able to renovate their stadium for 24 million. As I mentioned before, Janet Marie Smith who is one of the top baseball architects in America, is a MSU alum. Will she cut us a deal? It’s possible- but I would not think that it is a slam dunk. We’ll just have to keep our fingers crossed on that. I do think she should be involved and she would be a tremendous resource for us and would be worth whatever we pay her. How are we going to get the money to build this? That’s up to Scott to figure out. But when you consider how long the stadium will be there, I think it will pay for itself fairly quickly. Dudy-Noble Field is a great place to spend our SEC money.
Scott Stricklin is going to have some meetings regarding Dudy Noble Field at the Leo Seal M-Club Center in Starkville on Monday, October 14, 2013 and then at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in Jackson on Tuesday, October 15, 2013. I think it’s really good that the MSU administration is taking the time to listen to the fans and talk about the issues- most of which I believe I have covered in this article. I encourage everyone to come if at all possible and let their voice be heard and remember to keep an open mind about changes and also be thankful that we have an athletic administration that is willing to hear what we want. I’m really looking forward to the future of MSU baseball and becoming the program we all want it to be.