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‘Ambitious’ timetable set for future baseball stadium

February 22, 2019
Sholten Singer/The Herald-Dispatch Former Herd baseball coach Jack Cook holds a sign recognizing 24th Street between 4th Avenue and 5th Avenue as Honorary Coach Jack Cook Way during a ceremony announcing the purchase of a property for a new Marshall baseball stadium on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019, along 24th Street between 4th and 5th Avenues in Huntington.

HUNTINGTON - Jack Cook paused, his emotions throwing him a curve.

Cook, with 422 baseball victories from 1967 through 1989, is the winningest coach in any sport in Marshall University history. His dream of a baseball stadium for the Thundering Herd came 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 during an event at the stadium site on the north side of Fifth Avenue and 24th Street. The first $500,000 used to buy the property came from Huntington’s winnings in the America’s Best Communities Competition last year. An additional $250,000 came the Huntington Municipal Development Authority.

“I really wish I could. ...” Cook said before composing 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 (Marshall University athletic director Mike Hamrick) and everybody else is, get this field ready in a hurry.”

A crowd of about 200 people attended Thursday’s ceremony, including several Marshall players who laughed at Cook’s directive to Hamrick. Later in the ceremony, Mayor Steve Williams presented Cook with a street sign proclaiming 24th Street from Third Avenue to Fifth Avenue as “Honorary Coach Jack Cook Way.”

Hamrick said he anticipates 3,500-seat facility opening in March 2021.

Bids for construction, which he estimated will be in the range of $18 million to $20 million, will open in November with a ground breaking 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 Williams said the facility will meet NCAA specifications to host regional and super regional tournaments and to serve as the home for a minor league baseball team.

“I got a call three years ago from Mike Lee, commissioner of the Frontier League,” Williams said, referencing an independent summer baseball league with teams in Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. “He said, ‘I understand you’re looking to build a baseball stadium. We’d like to come in and talk to you.’”

Huntington has a history with the Appalachian League, a rookie-level circuit affiliated with Major League baseball, having served as home of a Chicago Cubs affiliate from 1990 through 1994.

Former Appalachian League Commissioner Lee Landers expressed interest in the league’s possible return to Huntington before he retired after the 2018 season.

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

Cook said he is thrilled that Marshall baseball coach Jeff Waggoner will benefit from the new ballpark that will have home plate in a corner of the lot near Marshall’s Chris Cline Indoor Athletic Center and will face Fifth Avenue.

“I’m so glad coach Waggoner will have a place to play that will give him a fair chance of competing in this tough baseball (C-USA) league,” he said.

The Big Green, the fundraising arm for Marshall athletics, will take on the task of raising money for the ballpark.