It's a MadCow World

Nobody follows or knows FSU baseball like Drew Hankin, i.e., MadCow. Well, Drew will be providing <b>TheTerritory</b> subscribers with an exclusive, weekly column this season. As we all know, patience will be needed at Dick Howser Stadium. While it's true that is going to be a work in progress for the next year or so due to construction, the product on the field should be better than ever.

The smell of freshly cut grass, the 'ping' of the bat, and the roar of the crowd. All of these things can only mean one thing - Seminole Baseball season is upon us.

New seating only partially in place.
Only this year, you can also add 'the noise of construction'. While it's true that Dick Howser Stadium is going to be a work in progress for the next year or so, the product on the field should be better than ever. We all will just have to jump through a few hoops to actually see it, and the coaching staff will have to shout over the jack hammering and drilling to tell people about it.

To begin with, the only way into the stadium this season will most likely only be from the left-field corner via a new gate and ticket booth. The normal front gate of Howser is no more and due to construction, the new front gate won't be accessible.

The third base bleachers have not been re-assembled yet and probably won't be until around mid-season, hopefully by the time FSU hosts Clemson and Miami in April. The grandstand itself has been expanded with two new large sections on the first base side and one on the third base side. While one would think that this might increase our seating capacity by a great deal;, it really doesn't add up to more than about a thousand new seats because the top of every section of the grandstand has been chopped off by a few rows to make room for luxury suites, offices, and handicap seating.

Comfy new chairback seating.
The seats themselves are state-of-the-art plastic chairbacks, the same kind that Baltimore's Camden Yard have, only garnet. After a brief inspection, I can happily report back that these are comfortable and roomy seats, even for those of us who may need a little extra room. In front of each seat are cup holders that should reduce the amount of stickiness on the floor of the grandstand. Speaking of the floor, a new coating of sealant has been added and work has been done internally under the existing grandstand sections to prevent the leakage that was seeping into the clubhouse and locker room area.

One immediate difference that fans will notice at Howser will be their ability to see the field. Gone is the thick black netting that protected grandstand spectators, replaced by new state-of-the-art clear-netting called Dyneema that is produced by Burbank Sports Netting, a company out of Fernandina Beach.

This new netting weighs only 170 pounds and will be nearly invisible to the fans but will provide even more protection with no loops or holes for the ball to slip past, stretching to the very top of the roof. The Arizona Diamondbacks use this same type of netting at Banc One Ballpark in Phoenix. While the old net was twenty-four feet high, the new one is twenty-seven. In addition, the six-foot chain-link fence that has been in front of the bleachers will be replaced with a new four-foot one that will make it much easier to see what's happening on the field.

Hitting facility with four separate batting cages and brand-new pitching machines.
The covered hitting facility and batting cages are nearly complete and the players are already taking advantage of the new digs which come complete with four separate cages, each with their own brand-new pitching machine. New bullpens have been built on both sides of the stadium as well. The pen just beyond the left field wall has two mounds and beginning in 2004 when Florida State switches to the first base dugout, will serve as the visitor's bullpen. The one down the right field line is perpendicular to the bleachers and has three mounds. This will be FSU's bullpen once the dugout switch occurs.

The official timetable is for the stadium to be 'fan-ready' by Valentines Day when the ‘Noles host Evansville for a three-game weekend series. At this point, that timetable looks to be extremely optimistic. It is hard to believe that fans will be allowed into the stadium anywhere close to that date and although no one at FSU will officially comment on what happens if the ‘Noles need to play elsewhere, it might be a good idea to keep your cars and trucks serviced to safely make a few more treks down to St. Petersburg until Howser is deemed ready.

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