HUNTINGTON — Marshall University took a huge step toward building a baseball stadium Friday when athletic director Mike Hamrick announced the school has hired an architect to design the long-awaited facility.
Hamrick announced the ballpark plans to more than 75 former Thundering Herd baseball players during a meeting in the Big Green Room of Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
"I know you've heard this before, but you've never heard it from me before," Hamrick said before announcing an architect had been hired.
Hamrick didn't divulge to the media the name of the architect, but displayed photographs of where the stadium will be located, at the Flint Group Pigments Plant property, formerly BASF, 2401 5th Ave. The property was recently purchased for $1.2 million.
The reaction was one of elation from former players and coaches. None was happier than legendary Marshall head baseball coach Jack Cook, 92, who won more games with the Thundering Herd than any coach in any sport in school history. Cook coached Marshall baseball from 1967 through 1989.
"I told my players I recruited every year since I was hired that next year we'll be getting a new field," Cook said Friday during a reunion of the 1973 Herd baseball team. "That's what I was told. It never happened."
Marshall currently plays non-conference home games at George T. Smailes Field at the YMCA Kennedy Center. Conference USA home games have been played at Appalachian Power Park in Charleston and Linda K. Epling Stadium in Beckley, West Virginia.
"Going forward, I hope this will help (current MU coach) Jeff Waggoner having a field on campus so they don't have to bus to Charleston or Beckley," Cook said. "He stays all night there when they play a series. It's like a road trip."
Hamrick said he has discussed the new ballpark with Cook for the past few weeks.
"I gave coach Cook an update and he told me to hurry it up because at 92 he was rounding third and heading home," Hamrick said, drawing laughter. "We called all the baseball players in for homecoming to announce this to them."
Larry Verbage, a Herd baseball captain in the early 1970s, said he was thrilled with the movement toward a new stadium.
"It's time," Verbage said. "We've heard it for years. It's time. Coach Cook was promised it and promised it, and now it's ready to happen."
Tim Murphy, another Herd player from the 1973 team, said he is relieved to hear news that a stadium appears about to become a reality.
"It's needed," Murphy said. "It's long overdue. It's embarrassing to be in a league such as Conference USA and have to go somewhere else to play home games. To compete at that level, Marshall needs a new ballpark. It would attract students and increase enthusiasm for the program. Economically it would attract new businesses around it. I hope they get it right."
Darren Woody, softball coach at Huntington High School and a former Herd baseball player, said he was overjoyed at Hamrick's announcement.
"It's been a long time coming," Woody said. "I feel so good for coach Cook. The university needs and deserves a new facility, and it's going to be great. I can't wait to go on to the field for the first time. It has to make recruiting a little bit easier."
The park not only would be home to Marshall baseball, but also could house a minor league team. Huntington hasn't fielded an affiliated minor league team since the rookie league Huntington Cubs left after the 1994 season.