For the last few decades, the brushy area adjacent to the MSSU Softball Complex was nothing more than a field of dreams.
But what Athletic Director Jared Bruggeman termed “a new chapter in Missouri Southern baseball” began Thursday, Sept. 25, when ground was broken at the site of what will become a new baseball stadium. Current and former Lions baseball team members gathered with campus officials and area supporters to mark the occasion.
The new stadium – to open in time for the 2015 season – will include amenities such as state-of-the-art synthetic turf, regulation lighting, batting cages and bullpens, fan seating for 600 (allowing Missouri Southern to host NCAA regional and national events), a press box, modern concessions area, ADA-compliant seating and restrooms and a viewing deck that can be used by student, community and alumni groups.
The Lions baseball program began in 1972 under Coach Ed Wuch. Games were initially played on the flood plain below Spiva Library before moving to Joplin’s historic Joe Becker Stadium.
Warren Turner served as coach from 1977-2007, racking up 852 career victories and ranking 15th all-time in NCAA history. He coached teams to two NCAA Division II World Series in 1991 and 1992 and the NCAA-II regional tournament four times. He was inducted this year into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame.
In 2007, Bryce Darnell became Missouri Southern’s third baseball coach.
The location of the new stadium was long considered an ideal spot, but it wasn’t until recent years that a push to fund it began to take shape. The $2.5 million project was made possible through a fundraising campaign initiated by the MSSU Baseball Advisory Committee in collaboration with the Missouri Southern Foundation.
During the groundbreaking, Darnell thanked the city for its long relationship with the team at Joe Becker. But he noted that playing there had presented certain challenges in terms of transportation for players as well as having to share the field with other programs.
As a result, team members can “feel like an island and not part of the campus community,” he said.
Dr. Alan Marble, president of Missouri Southern, echoed that sentiment during his remarks.
“It’s time for our players to come home, to play on their campus in front of their Lion family,” he said.