1/16/2006 – Daily News Record
McFarland Endorses Off-Campus Stadium Written By Mike Barber Daily News Record HARRISONBURG, VA – James Madison University hopes to begin construction on a new baseball and softball complex on the grounds of the old Harrisonburg High School within 30 months. The JMU Board of Visitors decided Friday to request an amendment to the governor’s state budget that would provide $5 million for the facility. Now, the school will wait to hear from the state legislature. "If they approve it, in July – that’s when it will become effective – we’ll hire architects to work with us and we’ll involve people in the city and the community to help us design this project," JMU vice president Charlie King said. "I’m not sure exactly how long it will take. But we would hope to do something within a two-year period as far as starting to build something." That can’t happen too soon in the eyes of JMU baseball coach Spanky McFarland. "To me, that could take us from having a good program to possibly being a great program," McFarland said Monday. "I think we have all the other things in line." McFarland said recruiting in the state has become increasingly difficult as other schools in the commonwealth upgraded their facilities. "We have a lot of things to sell," McFarland said. "We have a great university, a great coaching staff, a winning tradition. Still, kids today like stuff." Stuff like nicer dugouts and locker rooms, lights for night games and more seating – all things McFarland thinks could be part of the new stadium project. "It’s just getting harder and harder to recruit our state," McFarland said. "A lot of the kids we used to get are going to Virginia and Virginia Tech." McFarland said increasing seating capacity to at least 3,000 would allow JMU to host NCAA regionals, something it can’t do at 1,200-seat Long Field. In 2002, McFarland said, the NCAA was interested in hosting a regional at Madison but couldn’t because of inadequate seating. The proposed ballpark would replace Memorial Stadium. Built in 1948 as a home for the Harrisonburg Turks of the Valley League, Memorial Stadium was named for the 139 area veterans who died in World War II. It was paid for by donations. McFarland is not concerned about the proposed facility’s off-campus location, which he hopes would let JMU keep its current fan base while attracting more city residents. "I don’t have a problem with that," McFarland said. "I think it gives us a whole new pool of fans. You’ve got Turk fans who know where that field is. Parking wouldn’t be an issue." JMU averaged just 209 fans per game last season. King said the new facility would keep the "Memorial Stadium" name, part of the university’s agreement with the city when it bought the old HHS property – 29 acres – for about $17 million in June 2006. "What we said was we would maintain or look after Memorial Stadium," King said. "Well, obviously if we’re going to build a new baseball stadium there’s no need to maintain that. We think we’ve met our obligation. We’re going to call it Memorial Stadium, just like we promised." King also said the Turks would be welcome to play in the new stadium, an invitation they appear eager to accept. "The Turks will always be there," Turks owner Bob Wease said. "That’s what I’ve been told. I think it’s great, I really do. I think JMU is a big asset to the community. I’m sure they’re going to make a state-of-the-art stadium. It’s going to be great for James Madison University and it’s certainly going to help the Turks." Wease, who played his college baseball at JMU in Memorial Stadium in 1971 and 1972, admitted he’ll be a bit nostalgic if the old ballpark is torn down. But, he said, it would be worth it. "The stadium is starting to get old," Wease said. "Part of me, I hate to see it go. But it’s for the best." JMU’s softball program would also get a new field in the deal and – more importantly, said coach Katie Flynn – all the support facilities the Dukes are currently lacking. "Our field is very nice, very nice," Flynn said of the team’s current spot near the arboretum. "It’s a great site, great setting. It is really pretty. But it’d be challenging for us to properly host our conference tournament and we don’t meet NCAA qualifications to host a regional event." Flynn would like to see a stadium-style field for softball with chairback seating for between 200-300 fans and the ability to add bleacher seating to host larger events. Flynn said the softball facility should also have an Internet-capable press box. "A facility that has a stadium style, lights, adequate restroom, concession and tickets operations," Flynn said, noting that JMU currently has none of that for its softball program.