July 24, 2009
Courtesy of Molly Hulsey
If you're a spectator who heads out to University Field to catch a Mizzou softball game this year, you're in for an exciting view. Not only can people sit in first and third base foul-line seating, but the University is also opening special outfield seating for the first time-an upgrade that head coach Ehren Earleywine is excited about.
"We haven't been able to utilize those seats in the two years that I've been here, but we just talked to our marketing department and we are going to able to finally use that this year to allow people to sit outside the outfield fence," Earleywine said.
Outfield seats are just a part of the $325,000 renovation to University Field that began in 2005. Thanks to the generous gift of an anonymous donor, the field also features a new sand-based natural turf surface, which has greatly improved drainage problems. In years past, a light rain would render the field useless, leading to missed practices and canceled games. These drainage problems often made it impossible to use the field at all until late February, and were the main reason for the renovation.
"Practice on the field is important. There's no doubt," Earleywine said. "Last year it totally proved to me how important it is to practice on the field. There are a lot of things that are different from inside to outside... so us having the ability to practice outside when it rains the next day or when it's wet because of snow is really big for us. So much of what we talk about and preach is preparation. You can't prepare on one field and then try to play on another. It's been really nice to be able to practice out there."
Numerous companies around Columbia pitched in to help with the renovations. Central Concrete provided concrete and block work, and C&C Construction donated a new dark black wood outfield fence to the school. The new fence, which replaced a chain-link fence, has helped the Tigers to keep the ball alive during games.
New black-and-gold bullpens and a move for the scoreboard from left to center field (by Septagon Construction and Mid-Missouri Electrical) round out the improvements made before Coach Earleywine's arrival in 2006. When Earleywine walked onto University Field for the first time, however, he had another inspiration for a change that could benefit the team.
"When I got here, I walked into what at the time was just a place to put [the players'] bags," Earleywine said. "They would come in and throw their bags in this big room, and it had just a concrete floor and looked just like a basement. It was right by our dugout, and I thought, "This would be a great opportunity for a team room... for a locker room."
Local businesses were eager to help out with the project, and several donated just as generously as they had during the field's first renovations.
"We had a lot of help from local businesses who donated lockers and a television," Earleywine said. "My uncle's company put in the carpets, so we got a very good deal on the carpet. We redid this basement-looking room and made it into a pretty nice little locker room right by the dugouts. That's been a big improvement for us."
These improvements not only help the current team perform at their best on the field, but can also aid in recruiting. Earleywine counts the field as one of the best in the Big 12 Conference, calling it comparable to the fields of such powerhouses as Oklahoma, Baylor, and Texas A&M. With a renovated field and the newly expanded Mizzou Athletic Training Complex just minutes away, Earleywine believes Missouri can stay competitive in the recruiting game.
"I do understand that 18-year-old kids are all about the aesthetics. When you recruit a kid, the first thing they're seeing is how nice the facilities are. I know that's a big part of what they make their decision on. I just think we're very fortunate to have the facilities that we have, and I'm very proud of them. I feel spoiled here. I just think it's great."