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HUNTINGTON — A new baseball stadium for Marshall University became one huge step closer to reality Thursday with the announced purchase of land from the Flint Pigments Group.

Marshall and City of Huntington officials announced the $750,000 purchase, which took place Friday, during an event at the site on the north side of 5th Avenue and 24th Street. The first $500,000 used to buy the property came via Huntington's winnings from the America's Best Communities Competition in 2017. An additional $250,000 came from the Huntington Municipal Development Authority.

Marshall athletic director Mike Hamrick said he expects the 3,500-seat facility to open in March 2021. Hamrick said bids for construction of the facility, which he estimated will cost in the range of $18 million to $20 million, will open in November, with a groundbreaking expected in March 2020.

"That's a very ambitious timetable, but we believe that can happen," Hamrick said. "It will be the top stadium in the state of West Virginia and one of the top 20 stadiums in the United States."

Hamrick and Mayor Steve Williams said the facility will meet NCAA specifications to host a regional and super-regional tournament and to serve as the home for a minor league baseball team.

Marshall currently plays at George T. Smailes Field at the YMCA Kennedy Center off W.Va. 2, about seven miles from campus. The last 13 seasons, the Thundering Herd has played Conference USA home games at Appalachian Power Park in Charleston and Linda K. Epling Stadium in Beckley, West Virginia.

The long-promised ballpark is a dream of legendary Herd baseball coach Jack Cook, 92, who was promised a new facility when he became Marshall's coach in 1967. Cook coached the Herd through 1989, winning 422 games, the most by any coach of any sport in school history. Thursday, Williams presented Cook with a street sign proclaiming 24th Street "Honorary Jack Cook Way."

"I really wish I could," Cook said before pausing to compose himself mid-sentence. "I'm overcome. When I first came to Marshall, they told me 'We're going to get you a new ballfield pretty soon.' I kept thinking, one day we're going to get a new field. I'll be 93 in July. The one thing I want to tell Mike and everybody else is, get this field ready in a hurry."

This is a developing story. Check back for more information.

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