MSU Fans Prepare For Big ChangeColumns
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STARKVILLE, Miss. – They were standing on what was once a cotton trailer. The sides had long ago been removed with a blow torch. Platform levels were inserted to boost the seating capacity. Being what was humorously dubbed “college baseball royalty,” I was given a prime seat – one that had been removed from a junked car. Maroon turf covered the floors. Tubes used gravity to aid the garbage collection. Coolers were abundant and within an arm’s reach. The grill was hot, especially so on this unseasonably warm 80-degree day.
Multiple generations gobbled down burgers, pulled pork, sausages, and large quantities of their preferred beverages. A grill master took orders as hosts greeted visitors with, “Can I get you something to eat? How about a drink?” In my time there, I didn’t see anyone refuse the offer.
Opposing fans are welcome and several fans made a big deal out of having visitors out among them. Say what you will about the curious aesthetics and that may be what draws people in; but the hospitality and kinship is what brings them back.
There is nothing like this scene in all of sports.
Mississippi State’s Left Field Lounge did not start this way. Like most interesting things, it evolved over the years. It started with guys backing their trucks up and watching games through the fence. Through the decades, fans used whatever they could to patch items together to create a unique, if not always structurally reassuring, place to watch their Bulldogs.
Like many of our sports traditions, this one is about to change. This season is the swan song for the makeshift contraptions that dot the area beyond the Dudy Noble Field outfield wall. There will be a replacement. The new setup sounds incredible. But it is change and some of the locals are as fearful of the renovated outfield plan as they are running out of beer on a hot day.
Everywhere you go around the ballpark, everyone seems to be aware of the upcoming renovation. Much of the concern centers on the iconic outfield platforms and trailers that constitute the outfield terrace. Among the collection of grills, coolers, and sunburned fans, everyone you talk to has a notion on the outlook for one of the most unique, identifying traits of Mississippi State baseball.
There is no shortage of opinions but also some questions on just what the new stadium will feature when it reaches completion for the 2019 season. The current setup possesses an abundance of charm and the fans in Starkville are proud of their ingenuity. Anything that jeopardizes either is going to be met with skepticism.
Instead of the current rigs that are moved into place prior to each season and hauled away in June, the new stadium’s outfield slots will be built permanently in place. There will be 86 spots with two standard dimensions and four different floor plans to select from, a basic flatbed trailer look, then two-tiered, three-tiered and four-tiered. Front row spots are all 16-by-8 and back row spots are all 20-by-8.
Fans will still be able to add their own personality to the lots – just not through the physical structure. There will be electricity, storage, and a common concourse. There will also be new restrooms and concession areas added.
The most vocal critics of the new outfield policy are the lot-holders with the larger rigs. As one might imagine, no one wants to lose acreage on the deal. The parties with the smaller rigs will actually gain size and capacity. Other critics are not thrilled with the price increase from a shockingly low $250 to the new price of $2000.
As I made my way through the concourse and then around the outfield, I asked a few fans about what they knew about the stadium renovations and how it would affect the outfield atmosphere.
Here is a sampling (paraphrased):
“They are going to tear the whole thing (outfield terrace) down and put condos up,” one fan stated.
“They are scared someone will get hurt on the trailers so all of this will be gone,” said a veteran lounger. “I’m afraid of what will happen without them. We’ve been coming out here for decades. It won’t be the same.”
“I know there are some who don’t want to change the outfield but from what I have heard it will be amazing when they finish it,” another said. “But I will miss what we have.”
“It really doesn’t matter what they do, people are going to bitch and moan,” said another fan. “So they might as well do whatever they think will get this program to Omaha consistently. If we are getting to Omaha, the rest will take care of itself.”
Frankly, there appears to be as many different opinions of what the future holds as there are outfield trailers. Just how worried should these fans be as they head into the final year of the left field lounge as we know it?
“Everybody that is involved in this new stadium understands the history of this program and the history of the Left Field Lounge,” new Mississippi State baseball coach Andy Cannizaro explained. “They will do everything they can to bring that to the new stadium. It will be bigger. It will be better. It will be safer.
“It is going to be the nicest facility in college baseball and there won’t even be a close second,” Cannizaro said. “You are going to be able to take a lot of the history and tradition here and put it into the new place. The fans here in Starkville, they love college baseball and love our players. They have so much pride in this program and it is just a blast to be part of it.”
There is also some buzz about the new condominiums going up behind the outfield spots. The condos will be available not only during baseball season but could also be used for trips to Starkville during football and basketball season. Called The Left Field Lofts, each unit will have two bedrooms, a bathroom, kitchen, living space, and balcony. You can snag one for a $50,000 annual Bulldog Club obligation plus a maintenance/utility fee of an estimated $14,400 annually.
“There are going to be lofts in left field that go from the foul pole to about left-center field,” Cannizaro explained, “Three stories tall. It is going to be unreal. It will almost give it a Wrigley Field setting. People are going to be able to sit on the roof up top and watch the game.”
As for the other parts of the park, the plan is to have a two-tiered grandstand with chair backs, an elevated open concourse to allow views of the field. There will be a new clubhouse, training rooms, equipment rooms, and coaches’ offices.
For those curious about the stadium capacity, the new grandstand will hold more spectators than the current one. There will be berm seating down each foul line to allow more general admission access than there is today. The outfield is projected to hold the same number of fans, if not more. There will be standing room views from the concourse, unavailable currently. In addition, there will be 25 grandstand skyboxes, in addition to The Left Field Lofts.
All of this progress will come at a steep price. In addition to the $55 million cost, the Bulldogs’ baseball team will be practicing and playing in a construction area next spring.
“The grandstand is all coming down,” Cannizaro said. “Next baseball season will be played with half of the seating capacity. It will be a work in progress. The first home game is on the fourth week of the season next year. We open up on the road three straight weeks. We play a home SEC series, and then go back on the road. The contractors have asked for blocks of time, not just four or five days. We are going to be on the road for an extended period of time. We will have some hoops to jump through next year but it all will be worth it because it will be ready for opening pitch of 2019.”
When that opening pitch of 2019 arrives, how will the locals respond?
One fan astutely drew a parallel to the transition from Rosenblatt Stadium to TD Ameritrade Park Omaha.
“When they first moved it, everyone was complaining about the tailgating. But you can tailgate at the new park. People just had to find their spots and establish some new routines,” the fan said. “There is nothing wrong with the new park, except the direction it faces because of the wind. We go every year and to be honest with you, now we can’t tell that much difference outside the stadium from before. But on the inside, it is a much better fan experience. I really think that is how this is going to be at Dudy Noble. Some folks may get mad and may give up their space but you know, someone will be there ready to take their spot. People love baseball here.”