With UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart and new Wildcats baseball coach Nick Mingione looking on Monday, sophomore right-hander Sean Hjelle stood in the middle of a grassy pasture off Alumni Drive, went into his windup and delivered a pitch.
Two years from now, the exact spot where Hjelle was standing will be home to the pitching mound at UK’s new $49 million stadium, which was approved by the university’s Board of Trustees last week.
“It’s a really cool day for Kentucky baseball and Coach Mingione, and the players, most importantly,” Barnhart said Monday. “For so many years, we’ve been desiring to do some things to help our baseball program.”
Years of talk about a new UK baseball stadium will finally turn into a reality starting in February, when ground will be broken on the project, which is expected to take 18-20 months to complete and should be finished by fall 2018. The plan to is to have the Cats playing in their new home starting with the 2019 season.
Barnhart and Mingione shared new details about the project Monday.
The new stadium will feature 2,500 chair-back seats, additional space to accommodate about 4,000 fans for regular-season home games, and the option of temporary seating that could increase capacity to about 7,000 in the event that UK is selected to host NCAA Tournament games.
Team amenities will include a players’ lounge, new locker room, coaches’ offices, larger hitting facilities and a team video room. Artificial turf will also be installed at the new stadium.
Other features will be a club lounge for about 200 people, a concourse that wraps all the way around the stadium, an outdoor plaza leading into the facility and a play area for children inside the ballpark.
Mingione said the possibility of a new stadium has been the “No. 1 question” he’s gotten since being named UK’s head coach in June.
“We’re excited,” he said. “This is a huge, huge deal for our program. … This is an investment by the University of Kentucky that is as good — if not better — than anybody’s.”
The SEC is already home to some of the best stadiums in college baseball, and other schools haven’t been shy about spending on the sport. Louisiana State and South Carolina opened new ballparks in 2009 with price tags of $38 million and $35 million, respectively. Alabama recently completed a $42.5 million overhaul of its stadium, and Mississippi State has proposed a $55 million plan for new baseball facilities.
UK’s stadium will sit at the corner of Alumni Drive and College Way, positioned between the new football training facility to the left and the school’s soccer and softball complexes to the right, with Alumni Drive running to the south of the stadium.
Barnhart said Monday that the funding model is “pretty much done,” with much of the money coming from a “signing bonus” the department received in its recent multimedia rights agreement with JMI. UK has already spent about $4 million on the stadium’s design.
The name of the new stadium is still up in the air. The facility will not be called Cliff Hagan Stadium, and naming rights are still being considered. “We’ve got some time to work our way through those details,” Barnhart said.
Cliff Hagan Stadium has been home to the UK baseball team since 1969 and underwent a $4.2 million upgrade in 2002. “The Cliff” currently has 2,000 chair-back seats with a total capacity of 3,000 fans.
New baseball facilities have been a common topic of discussion throughout Barnhart’s 14-year tenure at UK. He said Monday that the university had considered renovating Cliff Hagan Stadium or rebuilding a new stadium on its current site off of Sports Center Drive at various times.
Those plans never panned out, and now UK baseball will get a new home on Alumni Drive, a highly traveled area that will provide the program with more visibility and accessibility to fans.
“We got a new facility in the best spot we could possibly be,” Barnhart said. “Sometimes you just have to wait a little bit for what is deemed to be best.”
Field dimensions for UK’s new baseball stadium
- Right field – 320 feet
- Right center – 365 feet
- Center field – 400 feet
- Left center – 375 feet
- Left field – 335 feet