By capacity and appearance, Eck Stadium remained one of college baseball’s most impressive homes.
By amenity, however, its status and functionality needed an update after a building boom in the 2000s consumed the sport.
This spring, Eck Stadium feels more complete and more at home among college baseball’s top facilities. The changes updated the places where coaches and players live and work and linked its indoor practice and weight-lifting areas in the way originally intended.
New coach Eric Wedge is in his new home next to the new third-base dugout, complete with a weight room mere steps from the new Shocker locker room, nutrition station, classroom and athletic training facilities. After a 10-year wait, it is all connected with the Bombardier Learjet Indoor Practice Facility, which opened in 2009.
“Being in here is outstanding,” third baseman Paxton Wallace said. “The lockers are incredible. The TVs are going in right now. It’s nice walking in and seeing your locker full of gear.”
In the stadium, new artificial turf (replacing turf installed in 2009) and a new outfield wall are ready for the season, with the familiar WuShock logo in center field. The bullpens are labeled with new names that honor former Shocker big-leaguers – Mike Pelfrey and Braden Looper. Pelfrey is also the pitching coach and still sort of new entering his second season on the staff.
“it’s starting to feel like home,” Wedge said. “The space is undeniable. The three things that really stick out are the locker room, the weight room, the classroom. Those are going to be the three areas where we’re spending most of our time.”
Wichita State starts practice on Friday. It opens the season on Feb. 14 with a three-game series at Northwestern State. Its first home is Feb. 21 vs. Texas Southern.
The Shockers like a spacious new locker room – the old one was so cramped it was difficult to walk through when full of athletes and equipment – the convenience of the weight room and access to quality food. Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach Garrett Bayliff (a former Shocker outfielder) is also a new addition.
Last week, the Shockers met with a university nutrition specialist. Eating the right food at the right time is a point of emphasis. The nutrition station, located near the locker room, offers fruit, oatmeal, milk, sandwiches, energy bars and more.
“The nutrition station is what everybody’s absolutely pumped about,” Wallace said. “Having all the fruit, snacks, sandwiches, everything you could think of all times.”
The speakers in the locker room are connected to Bluetooth, which makes it easy for the players to dial-up their favorite songs – heavy on the country with a dash of hip hop and rap.
“In the other locker room, you had to go in the computer room, go to YouTube, click songs,” pitcher Preston Snavely said. “We’re able to control the music a little bit better.”
While the indoor facility opened in 2009, it wasn’t connected to the rest of the stadium and the Shockers remained in their locker room behind first base. Going to the indoor meant a walk across the field and using the restroom meant going back outside to the stadium.
“The efficiency factor of it is massive,” Wedge said.
Weights required a drive to Koch Arena. Now, their world is self-contained.
“It’s a really big upgrade,” Snavely said. “It’s really nice to get dressed, walk-in (to the weight room), do your stuff, shower and go to class. There’s no driving.”
Wedge played for the Shockers from 1987-89 and won an NCAA title in 1989. Eck Stadium had recently grown to include locker rooms and lights (players dressed in their dorm or cars just a few years earlier). In his time, the Shockers dressed in a third-base clubhouse before moving to the first-base side in 1990.
— Brent Kemnitz (@BrentKemnitz) December 24, 2019
Thirty years later, Eck Stadium has grown into a 7,851-seat stadium with all the accompanying attributes now expected at the nation’s top programs. Keeping up with baseball’s best is a constant fund-raising battle.
The work on returning the Shockers to that level on the field is ongoing. It starts each day with a facility that should help those ambitions.
“This is most definitely going to be a second home,” Wedge said. “It’s that kind of a special place.”
Watch East Carolina Pirates vs. Wichita State Shockers women’s college basketball – Saturday, February 1st at 2:00 pm CT – Yurview KS (Cox Ch. 2022) and streaming live on yurview.com.