Lobo Field isn’t up to NCAA standards even after a $3.5 million renovation.
By Thomas Romero-Salas
ALBUQUERQUE — Last season, the University of New Mexico baseball team looked set to make its first run to the College World Series.
The team had won a second consecutive Mountain West title, had an overall record of 37-22, and were in contention to host the NCAA Regional tournament.
But school officials didn’t bother sending a request to host the regional because UNM had no place to hold it. Lobo Field wasn’t up to the NCAA standards even after a $3.5 million renovation.
Instead the Lobos traveled to Fullerton, California, for the NCAAs and were eliminated in just two games.
UNM sports information director Terry Kelly said the Lobos offense, which is usually one of the best in the nation, loses its potency on the road.
“If you look at the last four years, the teams that host the regional win the regional,” Kelly said. “As you’ve seen the past few years, the type of teams we typically have here, the offense doesn’t play at the coastal air of Fullerton or at Cal.”
Since Lobo head coach Ray Birmingham took the helm in 2008, 67 of 96 regional hosts have won their regional or 70 percent. In that same time span, 86 of 96 or 90 percent of regional hosts have played in their regional final.
Getting up to standards
The $3.5 million renovation included new bleachers, press area, turf field, dugouts and lights that were put up last fall. Lobo Field has been a product of state, university and private funding, much of the latter being raised by Birmingham himself.
“It’s a lot nicer than it used to be, but it’s not even close to what the other teams have,” Birmingham said. “It’s time for that help to make it a first class facility.”
UNM does intend to add concession areas, a new press area, more bleachers and a permanent locker room, according to an athletic department press release. The Lobos spent a majority of the past nine and a half seasons at Isotopes Park before moving permanently back to Lobo Field last year.
The school does plan on putting in the new bathrooms and clubhouse this summer. The bathrooms will cost $270,000 and the clubhouse will be $500,000.
“We’re still in the beginning phases,” said Brad Hutchins the associate athletic director of marketing/revenue “There’s still a lot of work to do… It’s coming along nicely. We obviously need to get more of it done.”
Lobo Field ranks third in terms of construction/renovation cost
When comparing Lobo Field to other Mountain West venues in terms of construction/renovation cost, it ranks third out of seven teams in the conference.
“It’s a lot nicer than it used to be, but it’s not even close to what the other teams have” — UNM head coach Ray Birmingham.
By counting for inflation, San Diego State’s Tony Gwynn Stadium ranks first at $5,829,682.24, while Fresno State’s Pete Beiden Field is second at $5,166,189 spent. The Aztecs originally paid $4 million to build Tony Gwynn Stadium in 1997 and the Bulldogs shelled out $2.2 million in 1983 for Pete Beiden Field to be renovated in 1983.
Air Force spent $2.1 million in 2009 to renovate Falcon Field to rank fourth in the conference. In 2014 dollars that amounts to $2,312,959.
UNLV funded $1.2 million in 1994 for Earl E. Wilson Stadium to be created, which amounts to $1,894,056.68 in today’s dollars and for fifth place in terms of spending in the conference.
The sixth team in terms of expenditure was Nevada, who put $1.6 million into Peccola Park to be renovated in 2006 or $1,856,476.19 in 2014 dollars.
San Jose State came in last with $1.15 million spent on Municipal Stadium which is also the host for San Jose’s minor league baseball team. The stadium was built in 1941-42 with $80,000. The Spartans play a majority of their games at Municipal Stadium, but also host games Blethen Field. Numbers for Blethen Field were unable to be found before press time.
“There are some other fields that have more stands than us and have more of a stadium feel right now,” UNM right fielder Chase Harris said. “Right now just because other stadiums have more of a stadium feel than us that they’re in front of us, but that’s just a matter of opinion. After it’s finished it’ll be hard to say one place is better than ours.”
The Lobos may rank third in spending but are dead last in terms of stadium capacity with a maximum of 1,000.
Fresno State’s Beiden Field holds 5,575 fans which is first in the Mountain West, San Jose State is second when the team plays at Municipal Stadium that holds 5,200 people.
SDSU, UNLV and Nevada are tied for third because all of their stadiums hold a maximum of 3,000 fans.
Lobo Field isn’t just used for the UNM baseball team, as the New Mexico Athletic Association (NMAA) hosts state playoff games on it, several baseball camps are hosted there, and last year some of the Texas state high school playoff contests were also played there.
“It’s not that the Lobos are the only team that plays on it,” Birmingham said. “NMMA is going to play on it, school systems are going to play on it and so are summer league. It’s a place of baseball.”
Before having an opportunity to host an NCAA regional, Lobo Field will hold the 2016 Mountain West conference tournament, according to the MW website.
UNM and Birmingham might be less than two years away hosting not only the MW tournament but holding their first NCAA regional as well.