By Grant Benefield
They say hard work pays off, and for JSU baseball, their hard work has earned them a brand-new stadium.
In July 2016, Jacksonville State University confirmed a $7.5 million project to completely revamp Rudy Abbott Field.
The massive project will completely change the face of the 22-year-old field, adding many new amenities for the players and coaches, including an indoor training facility for both batting and pitching, a new locker room, a team meeting area, new coaches’ offices, a lounge, and an athletic training treatment area. On-field additions include new step-down dugouts and new bullpens for the pitchers and catchers.
For spectators, the project adds a canopied 1000-seat grandstand, four VIP suites with indoor and outdoor seating, and a new press box that will include radio and television broadcast booths and a game operations center.
“The excitement around the baseball program with us building a new stadium right now is probably at an all-time high since I’ve been here,” said Head Baseball Coach Jim Case.
“This is something we felt very strongly that we needed in order to compete at the highest level, and as we’ve gotten into this process, I feel like the stadium we’re going to have is more than we could ever have dreamed. We’ve had so many people step forward to help in all kinds of ways, and when you put all of that together, the stadium is going to be really nice.”
But the project did not start out as massive of an undertaking as it is now, not before Jacksonville State received the largest private donation in the university’s history.
Jacksonville State Athletic Director Greg Seitz explained how a very small project became what it is now: “At the end of all of [Jacksonville State’s] athletic seasons, I have a meeting with the coaches to talk about the season and any future plans. A couple years ago when I talked with Coach Case, he said that we needed to do some updates at the baseball stadium. We were looking at maybe sinking in the dugouts and updating the home locker room. As we started talking to some of our potential donors, we actually had two donors step up and donate $1 million each. This became the starting point for the project that we have now, and once we got that donation it really got the momentum going for the new stadium.”
Jacksonville State President Dr. John Beehler added “We are very thankful for this generous $2 million private gift that we have received. This transformational gift, the largest ever made to Jacksonville State University, will help fund a new stadium for the baseball team, and will positively impact both the competitive and recruiting landscape of the program.”
And with the success that the Gamecock baseball program has had, it’s no wonder that the project came about.
The Gamecocks have had immense success during Coach Case’s 13-year tenure, no doubt earning the program a new stadium. In the past 13 years, Gamecock baseball has been to the Ohio Valley Conference championship tournament game nine times and won six. The program has also won more conference games than any other team in the Ohio Valley Conference during that span of time. Coach Case has posted a spectacular 229-125 record during his time as head coach, and won OVC Coach of the Year honors twice.
I asked Seitz if he believes that the project is a result of the program’s success, and he responded, “There’s no doubt.”
“Coach Case has done such an unbelievable job at building on top of the tradition that Coach Abbott built.”
Rudy Abbott was a pitcher for the Gamecocks in the 1962 season, after which he was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Abbott returned to Jacksonville as a sports information manager in 1964. Abbott began his coaching career in 1970 on an interim basis, and coached 32 seasons for the Gamecocks from 1970 to 2001. In that time he posted an incredible record of 1003-467. He also led the Gamecocks to two consecutive Division II national championships in 1990-91—Abbott earned Division II Coach of the Year honors both years. Abbott also had 75 players go on to play professionally, and the home of JSU baseball now bears his name.
In his first year of eligibility, Abbott was inducted into the Jacksonville State University Hall of Fame in 2011. He was inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in 2005.
“The tradition that [Abbott] built, Coach Case has really just taken it to a whole other level,” said Seitz.
“Specifically at the Division I level. We won a couple of National Championships back in the Division II days, and we’ve also been successful in Division I. There’s absolutely no doubt that the success we’ve enjoyed over the years, even dating back to Coach Abbott, has been a tremendous asset to us.”
Last year, the Gamecocks posted a 34-24 record and went 20-10 in league play. Jacksonville State made its thirteenth straight appearance in the OVC tournament and made it to the championship series, finishing runner up to Southeast Missouri.
With the new stadium, Seitz and Case believe they will be able to take the program to even greater heights.
“The new stadium is going to mean so much to our baseball program,” said Case. “It will provide our student-athletes with a first-class facility, while also improving the overall fan experience. Obviously, this will be a great recruiting attraction for our future student-athletes to help us to continue to have a championship program.”
Seitz said, “The new baseball facility is really going to help our team continue to compete at the highest level. It also demonstrates our commitment to improving the experience for our student athletes. It’s going to provide a first-class facility, while also providing a great fan experience. It will be a great recruiting attraction for future student athletes. We have a championship baseball program now, and we’re hoping this facility will set us apart and allow us to keep recruiting top-notch baseball players.”
With construction for the project now underway, the Gamecocks will not have any “true” home games this year. Instead, Choccolocco Park in Oxford will be the home-away-from-home for JSU baseball in 2017. Their first game to be held at Choccolocco Park is scheduled for March 8 against Bowling Green.
“Since we knew that construction for the stadium was going to begin this year,” said Seitz, “we began looking for a place to play. Choccolocco Park hosted the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament last year, and had put in a bid to host the baseball tournament this year. We have a great relationship with the city of Oxford, so I went and met with the Oxford Parks and Recreation director Don Hudson to see if there would be an opportunity for us to work in conjunction with Oxford High School and play our season there. So we are very fortunate that the city of Oxford has given us this opportunity, and we certainly want to thank Don Hudson and [Oxford High School Baseball Coach] Wesley Brooks for working with us and allowing us to play our home games there.”
It’s hard to imagine a sports season without your home field, but Coach Case has a very positive outlook on what 2017 has in store for Jacksonville State Baseball.
Case said, “This year will be a little bit different for us, but we’re so thankful for the city of Oxford. They’re allowing us to use the new facility there, and that’s where we’ll play our home games this year. We won’t have any true home game, and we’ll have to travel for all of our games. But that’s just one of those growing pains that we’re definitely happy to go through because of what we’ll have in the 2018 season.”
Check out the photo gallery below for artist renderings of what the completed stadium will look like: