The Southeastern Conference is arguably the premier conference in college baseball. The SEC has dominated the college baseball landscape for many years now. However, no conference team has won a national championship since LSU took the prize in 2001.
Where the SEC takes the prize is in gameday experiences. The top college venues are scattered around the SEC. From Alex Box to Sarge Frye, the SEC is second to none. From atmosphere to attendance, no other conference can compete with what the South has to offer. The top national attendance leaders (LSU, Mississippi State, and Arkansas) are all SEC members. College baseball's popularity is growing at an astronomical rate, and without the SEC, this phenomenon would not exist.
In some conferences, college baseball is just a way to pass the time until football season, but not in the South. Locations such as the "Left Field Lounge," the "Cockaboose," and the "Hog Pen" are all notorious SEC attractions for fans.
The "Left Field Lounge" in Dudy Noble Field at Mississippi State in Starkville is the granddaddy of all SEC baseball tailgating. From couches to old bus seats, all contraptions suitable for sitting are welcome in the lounge. Good luck finding a seat; most are spoken for early in the season, if not prior to the season.
The "Hog Pen" at Baum Stadium on the University of Arkansas campus is gaining ground on the "Lounge" at Mississippi State, but only lawn chairs are allowed inside the gates...for now. The "Hog Pen" also features built-in grills and picnic tables that are claimed on a first come, first serve basis. This allows everyone from fraternity boys to families to come together and enjoy the baseball experience.
The "Cockaboose" is unique to South Carolina's campus and features an actual train caboose beyond the left field fence. The "Cockaboose" is a landmark at Sarge Frye Field and will likely accompany them to their new home that is currently under construction.
These are just a few of the places that make SEC baseball special. All of the SEC ballparks are grand in their own way. The following is a ranking, in my opinion, of the SEC ballparks and some vital information on each of them.
(#1) Baum Stadium: Capacity 9,300
Baum Stadium was built in 1996, and it was the catalyst in the arms race of SEC Ballpark innovations. Now that Arkansas has established itself as a top tier SEC program, the overflow crowds make Baum a tough place to win for opponents. In 2004, Arkansas vs. Florida State set a NCAA Super Regional attendance record with a crowd of 10,027. Baum Stadium also is home to the "Hog Spa" which is the only field-side hot tub for rent in college baseball; now that is hard to beat! Arkansas also led the way with it's own baseball cheerleading squad dubbed the "RBI Girls." These dancing beauties provide crowd entertainment during breaks in action on the field. Other schools are taking notice and starting to form their own squads in the "RBI Girls" image. An expansion will take place after the 2006 season where 21 more skyboxes will be added as well as 1200 permanent seats. The new expansion will raise capacity to well over 10,000.
Amenities: Hog Spa, Hog Pen, JumboTron, Sky Boxes, Grills, and Picnic Tables
(#2) Dudy-Noble Field at Polk-Dement Stadium: Capacity 15,000
Dudy-Noble Field is the Grandaddy of college baseball pageantry. The atmosphere in Starkville dominated the landscape of college baseball for years. Although many other schools have caught up with Mississippi State, I would be hard pressed to say that any schools have passed them. The 15,000 seat crown jewel of Mississippi State University was in a league of its own until the late 1990's. The Bulldogs have played at the current location for thirty-seven years. In 1989, the Bulldogs set an on-campus attendance record with 14,991 against the Florida Gators. Mississippi State finished behind only LSU in attendance in 2005.
Amenities: Left Field Lounge, Sky Boxes, and JumboTron
(#3) Plainsmen Park: Capacity 4,100
The Auburn Tigers have called Plainsmen Park home since 1950. In 2003, Baseball America voted Auburn's home field the best college ballpark in America. Majestic Pines are beyond the outfield fences at Plainsmen, and they are just one aspect the makes the park a special place. An old time, hand-operated scoreboard and a green monster in left field add to the ballpark's charm. A picnic area on the right field concourse is a nice place to sit and eat a hot dog while watching the game.
Amenities: Old fashioned scoreboard, picnic area, and green monster
(#4) Alex Box Stadium: Capacity 7,760
The storied "Box" (as Tigers fans call it) has drawn more fans than any other college ballpark for nine years running. The Tigers National Championship habits keep the fans coming back for more. The old park does not have some of the amenities newer parks in the league do, but the old park still has its charm. In 1998, a concessions/picnic area was constructed beyond the right field fence, which made the stadium more fan friendly. National Championship flags fly high above Alex Box Stadium, and that is why fans come to see the Tigers play. The park was named after Alex Box in 1943; he lettered on the 1942 team and was killed in combat while serving in North Africa during World War II. Rumor has it that LSU will be building a new Alex Box Stadium that will rival any park in America. LSU deserves a new stadium, and it is long overdue in Tigerland.
Amenities: Outfield seating and right field picnic area
(#5) Hawkins Field: Capacity 1,500
The new home to Commodore baseball is Hawkins Field. Built in 2002, the 1500-seat gem is an elegant addition to Vanderbilt athletic facilities. The ballpark is small, but it makes up for lack of seats with configuration. The seats are on top of the field, which makes it an intimidating place to play for opposing players. Hawkins Field is also a throwback park with a green monster much like Plainsmen Park at Auburn.
Amenities: State of the art press box, green monster, and fan-friendly atmosphere
(#6) Sarge Frye Field: Capacity 5,000
Sarge Frye Field is home to the South Carolina Gamecocks and the "Cockaboose" in right field. The Gamecocks have been one of the most sucessful programs in college baseball since 2000. The Cocks have been especially tough at home, and the launching pad known as Sarge Frye Field has helped them to be one of the top offensive teams during that stretch. The close fences and rowdy crowds have been an ace in the hole for Ray Tanner's teams. The new stadium should be done by 2007, so this is likely Sarge Frye's swan song.
(#7) Oxford-University Stadium at Swayze Field: Capacity 3,500
Swayze Field opened in 1988 on the University of Mississippi campus. The 3,500 seat facility has become accustomed to near sellouts, and a crowd of over 9,000 attended a Super Regional game against Texas in 2005. The Super Regional appearance was a milestone for Rebel baseball. While SEC West rivals have great gameday atmospheres, the UM in the mix with Mississippi State, LSU, and Arkansas. The Rebels have started offering Saturday concerts during SEC weekends to help attract fans, and the team was in the top 10 in attendance in 2005. A picnicking area beyond the outfield fence allows large crowds to attend the games.
Amenities: Large picnic area and gameday entertainment
(#8) Sewell-Thomas Stadium: Capacity 6,118
The Crimson Tide has called Sewell-Thomas Stadium home since 1948. With a seating capacity of over 6,000, the Tide's home field is one of the largest in the SEC. During the late 1990's, Alabama had record crowds and tons of success on the diamond. A bounce back year in 2005, the Tide had a 37-4 home record.
Amenities: Number of seats
(#9) McKethan Stadium: Capacity 5,000
McKethan Stadium was recognized as a top ten facility in 1998 by Baseball America. Since then, other SEC schools have made strides in facilities and the gameday experience. The home of the Florida Gators is a good ballpark, but poor home attendance hurts its ranking. The 2005 national runner-up should have averaged more than 3,000 fans a game. I suspect that Florida will have a lot more fans in the seats in 2006. Plans are out to totally renovate McKethan Stadium in the near future.
Amenities: Large open palm tree lined plaza and outfield seating
(#10) Lindsay-Nelson Stadium: Capacity 4,000
Lindsay-Nelson Stadium was opened in 1993. The 4,000 seat complex gave the Tennessee Volunteers a brand new first class park a decade ago. Although the ballpark is only thirteen years old, it is in need of upgrades to keep up with the other parks around the league. Small crowds over the years have hindered efforts to expand and renovate the stadium. After a 2005 College World Series run, the interest in Volunteer baseball is at an all-time high. The new interest has caused a whirlwind in Knoxville, and expansion plans are being thrown around. I suspect Lindsay-Nelson Stadium to be top-notch in the near future.
(#11) Foley Field: Capacity 3,291
Foley Field is home to the Georgia Bulldogs. The quaint ballpark helped the Dawgs reach the 2001 and 2004 College World Series. The Dawgs have been tough to beat at home in recent years.
Amenities: State of the art drainage system and four sky boxes
(#12) Cliff Hagen Stadium: Capacity 3,000
In 2002, the University of Kentucky renovated Cliff Hagen Stadium. The new stadium is a facility that the Wildcat coaches can sell to recruits. The problem that plagues the coaches is the poor attendance to Wildcat baseball games. If Kentucky fans would support their team, Cliff Hagen Stadium could rise dramatically in the ranking because the facility itself is not inferior. In 2005, the Wildcats averaged less than 500 fans per game.
Amenities: Newly renovated