Freshly sallowed ground lies where the dugout once stood at the UAM baseball field that will have upgrades done as part of the “Swing for the fences” campaign that will improve facilities at the baseball and softball fields at the school. (Pine Bluff Commercial/ William Harvey)
By Chan Davis
OF THE COMMERCIAL STAFF
MONTICELLO — The Arkansas-Monticello baseball and softball complexes are receiving a facelift.
It started over the Memorial Day weekend when architects and crews began renovations at the on-campus facilities to move into the future, demolishing dugouts and press boxes and replacing fencing for an overall better playing experience for athletes and viewing experiences for fans.
“Hopefully we will be done by January 1,” UAM Athletic Director Chris Ratcliff said. “We are still trying to raise another $130,000 for the complete package, but we have started Phase 1.”
Phase 1 consists of tearing down the backstop and dugouts at the baseball field. In its current state, the press box is situated on top of the first-base dugout and is barely accommodating for home and visiting media personnel.
“This field has been here since the 70’s,” Ratcliff said. “Nothing has ever been done to it. We want to make it more user friendly for the players and fans.”
The backstop will be demolished and a new suspended netting backstop will replace the pre-existing chain-link fence. A new block wall will extend from dugout to dugout, with both dugouts being demolished and rebuilt.
“I think this shows we are getting a lot of support from our administration,” UAM baseball coach John Harvey said. “I think this is going to help when prospective players and their parents come in. They want to see surroundings that are friendly.”
Harvey said current players would also absorb the upgraded facilities.
“It makes them want to be at the field more,” he said. “I think it helps with everything, from current players to fans.”
The softball field will be getting upgraded for the first time in its 17-year history. Softball coach Alvy Early built the field the same year as Central Arkansas.
“We were the first ones to build a field,” Early said. “We had been playing off-campus and I thought we needed a facility on campus. So we came out here and built this field.”
Since that time, the field has added area surrounding it that prevented Early from doing certain things, like submerging the dugouts.
“There was a road that used to run by the field that is now closed,” Early said. “It prevented us from doing some things back then. And we had very limited funds. The first team I recruited came in here and we helped with everything. We laid sod, helped lay the blocks for the dugouts and helped put the fence up.”
Early said the improvements slated for the softball field included a new warning track, leveling of the playing surface, a block wall from dugout to dugout and suspended netting for the backstop. A new press box will be built in addition to new stadium-type seating, allowing patrons to see the entire field.
“Right now if you sit on the home side you can’t see left field and if you sit on the other side you can’t see right field,” Early said. “We want to get permanent bleachers that are raised so it is a better place to watch a game.”
The press box, which currently sits atop the third-base dugout, will be utilized for storage after the new press box is situated behind the backstop. Early said the upgrades should allow the Cotton Blossoms to cater more events in the future.
“Our long term goals are to make this facility one that we can host regionals,” he said. “We haven’t been able to do that because of the facility.”
While upgrades on the softball field have not yet started, demolition and reconstruction continues on the baseball field.
Ratcliff said as funds are available the baseball program is also expected to get a new field house so it doesn’t have to share with the football team.