The grand plans for the first real expansion and upgrade of Oxford-University Stadium/Swayze Field have been revealed. They are special and will make a great ballpark even better.
Seating in the actual stadium will go up from 3,000 to 4,200, give or take. That includes some 343 additional box seats down each of the first and third base lines for a total nearing 700 new box seats. Each club section down the left and right field lines will have some 254 seats in each area, which is slightly more than 500. Thus, the additional 1,200 seats in the main part of the stadium for a total at or about 4,200.
The numbers in the outfield are harder to estimate because there are no actual seats. The current left field terrace will basically be doubled to center field near the American flag pole and the scoreboard will be replaced and relocated to the top of the hill, basically moved back from where it is now to the edge of the outfield parking lot.
The right field terrace, mainly inhabited by students on game days, will grow as well, again most likely doubling in size. But as with the left-center terrace, it's hard to get an actual head count out there. But there will be a lot of room for fans to sit in the outfield areas.
One of the few drawbacks of the Regional and Super Regional was that so many fans had to sit on the ground, on the steep hill down left field, or even under or sometimes in the trees. That won't be the case anymore as this expansion will give a whole lot more people a place to sit more comfortably.
Also in the plans are a new scoreboard with video screen, as well as additional concessions and restrooms. The coaches will also have new offices which will be built at the stadium near the ticket office out front.
It's hard to believe 2006 will be the 18th season of Rebel baseball in the "new" stadium. The first pitch at Oxford-University Stadium/Swayze Field was Feb. 19, 1989, when Ole Miss beat Cumberland University 4-1 in front of 1,016 on one of those cold, early-season days.
Since then the place has remained basically the same, except for the terracing already in place in the outfields, the new Merkel Hitting Complex, and some paint and new carpet here and there.
The upcoming project will give the place a new look and feel and make one of the SEC's most beautiful baseball venues even more attractive, especially to recruits. And we all know how important first and often lasting impressions are to those the coaches are trying to get to play for the Rebels in whatever sport.
Of course, the city of Oxford has to sign off on this as it will be a 50-50 split between town and university. That's roughly $3 million each. The Oxford city council is currently studying the plans and should act soon – hopefully in favor of the project.
Cetainly Oxford-University Stadium has become one of the real draws to Oxford. In the spring and summer, no place has more visitors in this town or on this campus.
I would still love to see a real push for improvements at Tad Smith Coliseum follow this baseball project. Those two programs – Rod's and Carol's – deserve improvement from a facilities standpoint as well.
I know that at some point basketball will get a fix up, especially the underneath areas as we've mentioned so many times.
But as we continue to see the improvements in athletics facilities at Ole Miss, the coliseum is definitely one that needs to be helped. Everybody knows that – or should.
It was interesting to see that the Rebels will play Southern Mississippi in baseball at Pearl's Trustmark Park next April 4. That should draw a lot of fans who want to see not only the teams play but the new AA home of the Atlanta Braves.
The Rebels and State will play a week later on April 11 at Smith-Wills in the annual Mayor's Trophy game. What appears to be happening with college baseball in the Jackson area is that both stadiums are bidding for games, and the schools are adjusting to having two venues as possibilities.
I don't think it is set in stone that the Mayor's Trophy will continue to be played past '06 at Smith-Wills, just like the UM-USM game appears to be a one-time situation currently at Trustmark.
The Rebels and Golden Eagles have been playing three times a season lately, but that will be reduced to two times at least for the next two seasons.
In 2006 the teams will play in Oxford and Pearl, and in 2007 they'll play in Hattiesburg and the Jackson area (either Smith-Wills or Trustmark).
The love affair between Ole Miss fans and Maine will continue next spring. It was announced Thursday that the Black Bears and Rebels will play a three-game series Feb. 24-26.
Maine replaces New Mexico who was originally scheduled to play in Oxford that weekend.
The Black Bears will be without the head coach who came with them to Oxford for the Regional. Paul Kostacopoulos, who led the Black Bear program for nine years, is now the head baseball coach at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
Other non-SEC weekend series for UM are Saint Louis University (Feb. 17-19) in Oxford to open the season, followed by Maine the next weekend. Then it's Illinois-Chicago in Oxford March 3-5, and a trip to UCLA for a series March 10-12.
The entire 2006 Rebel baseball schedule will be released later.
Stadium expansion plans mark progress
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