The University of Arkansas was a power in collegiate baseball long before the construction of Baum Stadium. Looking back it’s astounding that former head coach Norm DeBriyn was able to compete with schools like the University of Texas, Oklahoma State and Wichita State, baseball powers at the time, considering the clear differences in facilities compared to those schools.
By the 1990s old George Cole Field had become a clear liability in recruiting and in drawing home fans to the ballpark. The AstroTurf playing surface was so worn out that Longhorns head coach Cliff Gustafson threatened to stop playing there for fear that his players might get hurt diving onto what amounted to a thin layer of synthetic turf over asphalt.
At George Cole Field there were no dressing rooms and no restroom for players. Fans sat on hard aluminum seats with a biting wind often whistling down Razorback Road and through the bleachers during the early months of the season.
At the Southwest Conference baseball tournament, held almost annually at The University of Texas’ Disch-Falk field, Razorback fans had to endure insults from Longhorn fans over the clear differences in the ballpark that each team used.
DeBriyn sought relief with a proposal to upgrade the current facility featuring locker-rooms, enclosed seating with chairbacks and a new turf field. However, just when construction was about to begin athletic director Frank Broyles pulled the plug on the project telling DeBriyn to help him find the money to build a completely new stadium.
The result was amazing. Keep in mind that the day Baum Stadium opened on April 13, 1996 it had less than half of the current seating capacity. But it had something that grabbed Hog fans the first time they walked into the place: a magnificent view of the field sitting below a beautiful wide concourse stretching from foul pole to foul pole.
Word quickly spread that watching Razorback baseball was no longer a chore. The stadium experience now matched the quality of play on the field. The fanbase expanded. Friends were made. Going to the ballpark became a new way to pass the time on a Friday night or Saturday afternoon in Northwest Arkansas.
As the years went by Baum Stadium began to expand. Upgrades to what is now Baum-Walker Stadium continue even to this day. It has remained the premium facility in college baseball for 25 years now. The current team is off to the best start in school history. A consensus number one in the country right now.
These days the best team also has the best facilities.
Thank you Frank. Thank you Norm.