2007: alcorns year?

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 26, 2006

Asked where he thought his school&8217;s baseball facility ranked with others in the SWAC, Alcorn athletic director Robert Raines couldn&8217;t pull any punches.

&8220;We don&8217;t rank,&8221; he said. &8220;We&8217;re not in the rankings. The field itself is decent, but it&8217;s the game-day experience for the spectator. That&8217;s why we don&8217;t charge. Why charge when you don&8217;t have a spot to seat them?&8221;

The man speaks truth.

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Another season is in the books for Alcorn baseball, and plans again are under way for an entire upgrade of the simple facility that would currently rival most Dixie Youth parks. It&8217;s undergone an upgrade since the 2003 season with the addition of lights and a wooden fence, but plans are for a major construction project.

And here&8217;s why longtime coach Willie &8220;Rat&8221; McGowan is really excited. His team is coming off its best season in at least five years and could have all but two starters returning. To unveil the new facility with an outstanding ball club, well, that&8217;s something to smile about.

&8220;You work on something five or six years &8212; it&8217;s time, you know what I&8217;m talking about,&8221; McGowan said. &8220;My kids need a nice stadium and a nice place to play so we can invite some schools in here &8212; white schools and black schools &8212; and let some of those high schools play in there. It&8217;ll help us recruit kids to Alcorn.&8221;

School officials have put the project out for bid, Raines said, and are hoping to break ground on it next month. It&8217;s been such an anticipated project that everyone on the roster has been promised the facility would be built, even those who completed their eligibility Sunday at the SWAC tournament.

Upon first glance, one player thought it was the practice facility. Last week another pointed to the ivy growing along the backstop, but it&8217;s not of the Wrigley Field variety. Others may not have been impressed but took solace in the field itself &8212; which, it&8217;s worth stating, is well-maintained.

&8220;When I first saw it, it was in worse shape than it is now,&8221; said catcher Scott Spillars, who played his last game Sunday. &8220;Two years ago Coach Lou (Marquez) put a lot of work into it. When I first went there, the dugouts were being worked on. I was like, &8216;Y&8217;all don&8217;t have any dugouts?&8217; It&8217;s come a long way since I was there four years ago.&8221;

It&8217;s a facility that pre-dates McGowan, who just finished his 34th year with the program and has never won a SWAC championship. The coach said it was there when he visited the campus way back in 1957.

The new facility will seat about 1,000 people and include storage facilities, rest rooms and dressing facilities. It&8217;ll also have a press box and a concession stand &8212; which it does now, technically, with a press table behind the back stop with no covering and if a spectator is gracious enough to share his barbecue with others.

Alcorn officials went public with an illustration of the facility after the 2003 season with plans for it to be built by the end of 2004.

&8220;It&8217;s our hope, as the way it looks, this time next year permanent seating will be complete,&8221; Raines said. &8220;The concept and the layout is still the same. To give you an example (of the timetable), the plans for our football stadium started my freshman year in college. The construction started 10 or 12 years later. That was a tremendous project.

&8220;A project of this size, even though it&8217;s a smaller project, still had to go through the same process. It also seems like it&8217;s taken a long time because we&8217;re so ready for it.&8221;

If the Braves can put together a championship year their first year in the facility, the potential may be immeasurable. Even though baseball flies below radar at many historically black colleges, the Braves got a good group of fans Sunday at Trustmark Park for the championship.

Interest grew in the program in 2004 and 2005 with second baseman Corey Wimberly, who was drafted by the Colorado Rockies. Now they have two potential draft picks in Marcus Davis and Bradley Hubbert.

&8220;It&8217;ll be fantastic,&8221; McGowan said. &8220;If we can keep these guys in tact, sign about four or five pitchers, it would be fantastic to open that park with a good ball club like we think we&8217;ll have on paper. These guys are proven, and it&8217;s good to have those types of ball players around. We&8217;re looking at a championship next year with those people.&8221;

Davis, McGowan said, may get picked in the later rounds when Major League Baseball holds its amateur draft next month. If not, that keeps the team&8217;s outfield of Davis, Shawn Taylor and Caleb Betschart in tact with each playing their senior season.

The Braves have to find a shortstop to replace All-SWAC selection Greg White. They may get back Kevin Gaston, who was suspended most of the season after he tested positive for a steroid, McGowan said.

Some pitching won&8217;t hurt after the loss of Matt Chatwin and Earl Smith. If all that happens, next season could be something special. And if you were to ask Raines where his facility ranks at this point next year, you may get the complete opposite response.

&8220;They&8217;re not going to be able to touch us,&8221; Raines said. &8220;We&8217;re going to set the standard for a while. It&8217;s time for Coach McGowan to get his championship. He&8217;s due.&8221;