LEXINGTON, Ky. – A new baseball stadium has been on Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart’s wish list for a long time. It is a critical piece to being competitive in the baseball-crazy Southeastern Conference, and Barnhart knows that, but other campus and athletic projects came first.
Glittering new dorms and academic buildings and a student center have sprung up in the last five years, as have new soccer, softball and track and field stadiums, a $126 million football stadium renovation and $45 million new football training facility.
“For a number of years, we’ve been desiring to do some things to help our baseball program,” Barnhart said Monday. “Sometimes you want good, sometimes you want better, and if you wait long enough, sometimes you get the best.”
At long last, Kentucky has announced a new $49 million, 2,500-seat baseball stadium, which will begin construction in February and is scheduled to open in the fall of 2018, completing Barnhart’s top-of-the-line “athletic village” along Alumni Drive in Lexington.
“I am most excited to sit up here with (new baseball coach Nick Mingione) and be able to finally put a ribbon around our plans,” said Barnhart, who noted that a $30 million signing bonus from UK’s latest media-rights deal with JMI will go toward the cost.
With berm seating, regular-season capacity will surpass 4,000 and temporary bleachers beyond the outfield wall can stretch that to 7,000 when the Wildcats host NCAA Tournament games – which they haven’t done in a decade.
“The No. 1 question I’ve been asked since I’ve been hired is about the stadium, whether it be families, whether it be recruits,” Mingione said. “The two words I think about when I think about this stadium are ‘commitment’ and ‘investment.’ ”
But as with everything at Kentucky, Monday’s press conference to announce the latest facility eventually circled back to men’s basketball. Although John Calipari’s team has a relatively new practice facility and players’ dorm – in addition to upgrades to the locker room and audio/video technology at 40-year-old Rupp Arena – the university’s flagship program is due for a fresh shine.
“Everything goes in cycles. We’ve always taken care of basketball here at a pretty high level,” Barnhart said, noting that while UK basketball’s Joe Craft Center only opened in January of 2007, “we need to update that. We’ve got to make sure we address that, and that’s coming pretty quickly.”
He didn’t offer any specific basketball upgrades in the works, but he did note that when baseball moves out of its current home, Cliff Hagan Stadium, the long-neglected tennis program will begin construction on a new indoor/outdoor facility on that same land.