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While the Utah baseball team's 8-4 league record leads the Pac-12 this week in the standings, the program has long been locked into sharing something: its home stadium.
But Utah athletics revealed this week that it is starting to take concrete albeit early steps toward building an on-campus facility that the program hopes will revitalize interest in the baseball team and lead to greater recruiting success and consistently competitive play.
Athletic director Chris Hill said the department has drawn up renderings for a 2,000-seat stadium that would sit in the place of Utah's current practice field on Guardsman Way, near the football facility and straddling Sunnyside Park. Hill estimates the renovation, construction and land acquisition to pull off the project would cost roughly $7.5 million, backed by donors.
It's still early stages it would be years before the Utes could play a game in the stadium but Hill acknowledged that he has held discussions with donors, university committees and Salt Lake County about getting the long-desired project off the ground.
"It's something we've talked about for a long time, but it's really bubbled up more in the last year," he said. "We have some people who are interested, and we're in some conversations."
The Utes are currently housed at Smith's Ballpark, a 15,411-seat stadium that is the home of the Triple-A Salt Lake Bees. Hill said the relationship has been good with the Bees and general manager Marc Amicone (and the franchise is owned by Miller Sports Properties), but logistically, scheduling Utah home games around the Bees' schedule is more difficult than ever. The venue is also cavernous for Utah's reported 1,093 average home attendance.
Utah's desire for an on-campus baseball home has only become more intense since the softball team built Dumke Stadium in 2013. The program leveraged its improved digs to more success: Last year, Utah was ranked for the first time in 14 years and reached the NCAA regional tournament. The Utes are currently 27-13 and tied for third in the Pac-12.
While Utah baseball has had a fortuitous start to the season, the program has finished in last place for the past four seasons of the Pac-12 era. Baseball coach Bill Kinneberg said the possibility of an on-campus stadium is a potential "game-breaker" for the program.
"Not to say that [Smith's Ballpark] isn't great to recruit to or great to play on, but it's not ours," he said. "It creates some problems at times. Having our own campus field, we'll finally have a home."
The current target is to play opening day of the 2018 season in the new stadium.
Hill said the department is trying to work out a deal with the county to lease a small plot of Sunnyside Park to create enough room to move the current practice field further east from Guardsman Way and build a retaining wall to close in the park.
Utah donors have expressed interest to Hill in funding the project, which Hill said won't be bankrolled by a bond as previous big projects have been for men's basketball and football facilities. Kinneberg brought up the renderings at a banquet in February, creating a little buzz for the project.
There's a considerable amount of red tape left.
"There's a lot of university approvals that we have to get, as there should be," Hill said. "We have to get a financial plan approval. We have to get approved for an architect to work on it. I couldn't tell you exactly when we'll be getting to some of those steps. But we are in the early stages of working on this."
Twitter: @kylegoon Utah looking for new home for baseball
- Proposed site would be built atop current baseball practice field on Guardsman Way
- 2,000-seat stadium, potentially with artificial turf for year-round use
- Estimated $7.5 million cost, funded by donations
- Requires 14,000 square-foot tract of land currently a part of Sunnyside Park