Baseball stadium expansion has begun

Construction is underway, and in the next two years Oxford-University Stadium/Swayze Field will be transformed into arguably the best college baseball facility in the country.

The "new" Swayze Field replaced the old one prior to the 1989 season. It was located west of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium's press box, with home plate in the current Turner Center's east parking lot.

There was some discussion of leaving the baseball field where it was and expanding. But there were room limitations there. So it was moved to its current location.

When it opened in time for the 1989 season, the stadium was one of the finest for college baseball in the country. In its early years, several publications and polls listed it in the top 10 in the country. One had it No. 7.

Through the years not much was done to the actual stadium structure itself. Both the seating area and the underneath area including the locker room remain virtually the same as in 1989. That's about to change. Actually it's already begun to change.

"The demolition part is about completed," said Blake Barnes, senior associate athletics director for facilities at Ole Miss. "The ticket office and the concession/souvenir stand that were in one building near the entrance gates is gone. The entrance gates are gone. The sidewalks around the stadium have been torn up. Both bullpens are now being moved behind the outfield fence to their new location. So a lot of work has been done already or is in the process of being done."

A lot of things will dictate how much will be done before the season starts in late February, and how much will be done during the season itself.

"The weather obviously has something to do with that," Barnes said. "There will be some things done before the season, and we'll work around some other things during the season."

Temporary ticket offices and souvenir stands will be used this season. The hill that many fans sat on past third base and above the home bullpen won't be available this season as the construction of the addition to the stadium will take place there, as it will past first base out to the old bullpen area.

"The main thing is to get as much done as we can but not disrupt the baseball season," Barnes said. "That's for the teams and also for the fans."

Fans will likely have to navigate some temporary entrances and walkways this season, but that will only be a slight inconvenience. And obviously by the 2009 season, the facility will be a showplace for Ole Miss Rebel baseball.

Some of the work down the lines, which will decrease the foul territory, may take place during this season. The addition to the structure, which will basically double the size of the stadium from 3,000 chairback seats to 6,000, will mostly be done after the 2008 season. That also includes the work on the club level seats at the top of the current stadium. The roof is scheduled to remain as is.

Three of the eight light poles must be relocated. That is supposed to be done before the 2008 season.

"We are set to be totally completed by the start of the 2009 season," Barnes said.

That excites Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco, who is entering his eighth season at Ole Miss this spring with a program he and his staff have built into one of the best in the country. Now they'll have a stadium that will be the envy of college baseball programs everywhere.

"We're very excited to see the construction," said Bianco from his new offices just outside the stadium's front entrance. "Every day you come to work and see people in hard hats and see tractors and bulldozers and see the progress, and it's exciting."

Bianco said the players and coaches aren't bothered by any inconvenience. They are looking forward to what the newly expanded and renovated facility will add to the program.

"What we've had to do to get in and out of the locker room and hosting camp (in December), it's been OK," he said. "It'll be a little different for all of us this season, and we'll have to be patient during the progress. But I don't believe there will be a problem for us or the fans."

There should also be no problems in hosting postseason tournaments in 2008 if the Rebels again qualify to host.

"It's an exciting time," Bianco said. "Once they started putting that (temporary) fence up and tearing up that concrete around the stadium, you know there's no doubt it's going to happen."

The indoor hitting facility that was added, the outfield expansion, and the new coaches' offices have all precluded this expansion. It's all a part of the grand plan for Ole Miss baseball that Bianco envisioned when he took the job in the summer of 2000.

"To get to this point of expansion and for the stadium to double its capacity and to have club level seating, the only way to go about it is to go day by day," he said. "When I got here that first day, I envisioned the stadium getting bigger and the type crowds we now have. You don't put a timetable on those types of things. But you don't just wake up one day and it happens either."

Fortunately, after years of hard work and winning and support from administrators and the city and the fans, that day has finally arrived.

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