The Diamond Dawgs swept last weekend's baseball series with Mississippi State in front of record crowds at Foley Field. Originally constructed in 1966 and refurbished in 1990, Foley Field currently seats an official capacity of 3,291, the second smallest in the SEC. Only UK is smaller. Despite it's small size, the facility held crowds of 3,876 Friday night, 4,461 Saturday (the largest crowd in Foley Field history), and 3,689 Sunday. Those crowds broke the all-time attendance record for a weekend series. Clearly, demand for UGA baseball is at an all-time high. And it should be. Very few programs have performed like UGA in the last ten years. So, isn't it time to expand Foley Field?
We've mentioned, albeit briefly, that a new Foley Field is included in the athletic facility master plan. The master plan, though, is a long range wish list. It's projects are aspirational over the next ten to fifteen years. The plan advances two alternative designs for a new Foley Field. The first would involve a completely new structure, rotating the field so that home plate would be moved to the present right field. This plan would present two significant changes: 1) present a more aesthetic view beyond the outfield wall, with the Rankin Smith Center and Stegeman as the view beyond the batter's eye, and 2) eliminate the view from Kudzu Hill, the most unique aspect of Foley Field. I'd rather keep the kudzu.
A second alternative is presented in the master plan that maintains the existing structure and simply adds seating all the way down the outfield lines. This alternative was presented without comment, so I'm at a loss on details, but it has to be less expensive. Because it's less expensive and would preserve the charm and beauty of the existing setting, I like the second alternative. Depending on how the additional seating is planned, we could also add additional baseball specific facilities under the new stands, like offices, weights, or batting cages.
This season, three SEC teams have new or refurbished baseball facilities. Six other schools have new digs, too. (Baseball America put together this slick review of all the new stadiums.)
- Ole Miss refurbished Oxford-University Stadium for an estimated $18 million. Their expansion looks a lot like what the second alternative of the master plan would look like. The Rebs added a bunch of seats down the lines and redid their entire stadium facade.
- LSU built a new Alex Box Stadium, expanding from 7,760 seats to 9,200. The Tigers have led the nation in attendance for several years now, so an expanded stadium makes perfect sense for them. They added 288 luxury boxes, too.
- And, South Carolina built an absolute palace for an estimated $38 million. It is a seemingly self-contained baseball shrine, with built-in batting tunnels, weight room, media rooms, and athletic training facilities. It also has luxury boxes. LSU and Carolina's new digs make Foley Field look even more like a little league park when compared with the rest of the conference.
Look, I'm not demanding that Damon unveil the best facility in the country, although that would be great. What we need is increased capacity so we don't leave ticket revenue on the table. UGA already has a renovation plan that preserves Kudzu Hill and shouldn't cost as much as building a plush, new AAA-equivalent ballpark like LSU and Carolina. Let's advance the plan.
Coach Perno continues to coach and recruit at a high level. The program looks like its on a solid foundation for years to come. Let's build a facility worthy of such a program.