Kentucky Joins Facilities Craze

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When Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart went searching for a new head coach this past summer, it was abundantly clear that things needed to change in terms of commitment. Few highly regarded coaches were heading to Kentucky without some guarantees that facilities improvements were on the way.

University of Kentucky logoBarnhart was steadfast in his belief that Kentucky Baseball would soon have a premier facility. And those predictions came to fruition Friday morning when the University of Kentucky Board of Trustees approved the construction of a brand new, $49 million ballpark, which will be at a new site next to Kentucky’s football stadium.

The news comes as a huge relief for charismatic head coach Nick Mingione. The Wildcats have lagged well behind other SEC foes, and especially rival Louisville down the road. However, the new ballpark will put the Wildcats among some of the nation’s best in terms of facilities, and best of all? The funding for the projection is almost complete.

“We’re extremely appreciative of the continued commitment of President Capilouto, Mitch Barnhart, the University of Kentucky, and our athletics department to our program,” UK coach Nick Mingione said. “The new facility will be beneficial in a multitude of ways and we will continue to bring the right type of students into our family to play in this marvelous facility. There’s a great deal of work to be done between now and the day our new stadium opens for our baseball program to reach the heights we all want it to, but we’re certainly excited about what the future holds.”

So, what will the new ballpark entail?

The construction process is in its infant stage, as the Wildcats still need to put the renderings out for bids. However, we do know of a few of the ballpark’s intimate details. UK’s ballpark will feature around 2,400 permanent grand stand seats, while with the addition of grass berm seating, it could hold 4,000 spectators on any given weekend. Furthermore, the Wildcats have the ability to get 7,000 fans in the park for a huge SEC series or NCAA postseason tournament.

UK’s new park will feature suites, a club area and other stellar amenities, while construction of the facility is slated to begin in February. UK will play at Cliff Hagan Stadium two more seasons while construction is ongoing and will move to its new digs in the fall of 2018, with the first season coming in 2019.

“This is another step toward making the vision we have for our facilities a reality,” Barnhart said. “We are excited to begin construction on the baseball stadium we’ve long worked to build and even more excited to give our program an incredible new facility as we pursue our goal of competing at the highest level in the strongest conference in America.”

Kentucky’s newfound commitment to baseball provides yet another boost to the Southeastern Conference. Just in the past couple of months, Florida approved a whopping $107 million overall athletic department facilities renovation project, and an expected $25-30 million of that will go into a total overhaul of McKethan Stadium. In all, that is around $80 million in renovation projects for just Florida and Kentucky, with Vanderbilt building a state-of-the-art facility and other programs expected to do double-digit million-dollar projects in the near future as well.

kentucky2Kentucky’s new ballpark has a striking resemblance to TD Ameritrade Park. (UK Photo)

It’ll now be interesting to see how Mingione and his staff are able to recruit in the Bluegrass State with the power of a new ballpark guiding the way. Mingione was given a solid contract with the Wildcats this past summer, earning a base salary of $375,000, with it increasing in $50,000 increments over the next two years.

I’m not sure I ever thought I’d see Kentucky make a strong commitment to college baseball. Now it has and Barnhart deserves a ton of credit.

Kentucky finished the 2016 campaign with a 32-25 overall record and last reached the NCAA tournament in 2014.

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