Dudy Noble Field, Polk-DeMent Stadium
The 2013 season marked the 47th season of baseball at the current site of Mississippi State baseball’s on-campus home field, Dudy Noble Field. And in the 47th season since MSU first settled into its current on-campus baseball home in 1967, Mississippi State registered its 1,000th win, prevailing in more than 73 percent of its 1,400-plus games it has hosted over the past six decades.
Over the past five decades, the facility has evolved into the nation’s largest campus facility for college baseball and what many regard as the sport’s finest all-around baseball complex.
MSU has eclipsed the 200,000 mark in paid attendance at Dudy Noble Field seven times in the past 12 years, including a school-record 281,840 in 2013 and a school-best average of 7,617 during MSU’s magical run to Omaha this past summer. This past year also saw the Diamond Dawgs’ fifth millionth fan walk through the turnstiles at Dudy Noble Field. Since home attendance figures were charted starting in 1976, the “Carnegie Hall of College Baseball” has seen 5,057,646 fans rush through the turnstiles.
The field is named in honor of longtime MSU baseball coach, athletics director and ABCA Hall of Famer Clarke Randolph “Dudy” Noble. On April 27, 1998 the facility was renamed Dudy Noble Field, Polk-DeMent Stadium, honoring another ABCA Hall of Famer, former Bulldog skipper Ron Polk and the late Gordon DeMent, a successful businessman and longtime fan of the Baseball Bulldogs from Indianola, Miss.
Dudy Noble Field, the home to seven Southeastern Conference championship teams, has three times hosted crowds in excess of 14,000, including an NCAA on-campus-record 14,991 that watched the Bulldogs take on Florida in a Saturday twinbill in 1989. State has hosted crowds of 10,000 or better 31 times, including 2007 NCAA Super Regional-record draws of 13,715 and 12,620 for nationally-televised late morning games against Clemson. MSU has hosted three NCAA District III Tournaments (1973-1975), five SEC tournaments (1979, 1981, 1983, 1988 and 1995), 12 NCAA Regional tournaments (1979, 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1992, 1997, 2000, 2003 and 2013) and its first NCAA Super Regional in 2007.
From 1929 until 1964, Mississippi State hosted its baseball games at the original on-campus site for Dudy Noble Field several hundred yards to the south of Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field, State’s football stadium. The baseball field was closed following the 1964 season to make way for the construction of Dorman Hall. And for the next two seasons, while the “new” Dudy Noble Field was being built, the Diamond Dawgs played their home games in Columbus, Miss., at Redbird Park, capturing SEC titles both seasons at their temporary home. Meanwhile, the tin-roofed grandstand and 2,000-seat bleachers at the old field were moved to the stadium’s present site, which became playable for the 1967 season.
Facility enhancements have followed a steady pace over the years ever since.
In 1971, thanks to the generosity of the late E.B. “Dutch” McCool, a former MSU baseball player and one of the founding fathers of Holiday Inn, Inc., MSU took the lead in the Southeastern Conference with the installation of a lighting system. The advent of night baseball in Starkville helped build a solid fan base. Drainage and irrigation systems and an expanded scoreboard with an animation-equipped message center, new batting ranges and an infield tarp became the stadium’s next improvements.
Mississippi State hosted its first SEC Baseball Tournament and NCAA Regional in 1979, winning both and setting attendance marks while opening eyes along the way.
The crowds mushroomed further in the 1980s as future Major League stars Jeff Brantley, Will Clark, Rafael Palmeiro and Bobby Thigpen helped the 1985 Bulldogs win the SEC championship, host and win another regional championship and earn MSU’s highest national finish, a tie for third place at the NCAA College World Series.
It became apparent that support for baseball at State had easily out-grown its cozy Dudy Noble Field facility. Two years after that magical ‘85 season Mississippi State unveiled a dramatic advancement for its baseball facilities — an impressive $3.5 million project that would give MSU the biggest baseball stadium in the league.
The new facility at Dudy Noble Field, built in less than nine months, featured an impressive concrete grandstand structure with 3,700 maroon theater-style seats, a spacious elevated press box, restrooms, ticket, souvenir and concession-vending facilities. The team clubhouse featured a spacious 40-locker dressing room and team area. A pair of 1,500-seat bleachers that once overlooked the end zones at Scott Field, the home of MSU’s football Bulldogs, were refurbished and installed along the foul lines, raising seating capacity at Dudy Noble Field to 6,700. The facility was later chosen by Sports Illustrated as the best place to watch college baseball, and it helped ignite a drive to update baseball facilities throughout the SEC and beyond.
The expanded capacity at the stadium also triggered an increase in MSU’s annual baseball season ticket base to more than 5,600, virtually assuring Mississippi State’s place among national leaders in college baseball attendance every year.
A second permanent concession stand was added in 1989, and a year later, the cinder warning track at the outfield fence was extended to completely encircle the playing field. That project, along with the installation of a six-foot high padded outfield fence, was made possible by a donation by former MSU All-American and Major League standout Will Clark.
Best-selling author, MSU alumnus and avid MSU baseball fan John Grisham donated funding in 1993 for an indoor batting range under the first base grandstand, and in August 1998 construction got under way on an ambitious project that added 18 sky suites and more than 600 additional chairback seats in the grandstand. When it was completed during the 2000 season, permanent seating capacity at Dudy Noble Field had eclipsed the 7,000 mark.
The aura of Mississippi State baseball at Dudy Noble Field is certainly not confined to the loyal legions in the impressive grandstand, pro-style luxury sky suites and bleachers.
In fact, some of the more highly-prized seats at Bulldog Baseball games are found beyond the outfield fence in the “Left Field Lounge.” Waiting lists greet those seeking to purchase one of nearly 75 renewable season parking passes for an assigned position in one of three rows beyond the outfield fence. There, a colorful assortment of pickup trucks, motor homes, and trailers — most equipped with barbecue grills — line the outfield fence, completing a circle of humanity at Dudy Noble Field.
What began in the late 1960s as a popular gathering spot for baseball-loving MSU students now forms college baseball’s largest tailgate party. A 10-foot wide boardwalk has since been added to the area between the outfield fence and the first row of outfield terrace parking.
Not surprisingly MSU ranks each year among the nation’s leaders in attendance. Single-game paid attendance totals have reached the five-digit mark 31 times, and each year Dudy Noble Field routinely hosts games with the Southeastern Conference’s largest actual attendance. SEC weekend games typically draw the largest crowds, giving rise to huge weekend gatherings in the spring. Seven of the last nine three-game Super Bulldog Weekend series have drawn more than 25,000, including an SEC series-record 32,679 fans that watched the 2013 MSU-Auburn series.
Still, the improvements continue at Dudy Noble Field. Prior to the start of the 2003 season 46-foot “major league” foul poles were added, and a year later a new state-of-the-art scoreboard/message center, courtesy of the Henry Mize Foundation, was installed along with new fencing and gates surrounding the main grandstand.
The landscape surrounding Dudy Noble Field took on an even more impressive look in 2005 with the completion of the Palmeiro Center, a massive 68,000-square foot climate-controlled turfed indoor practice facility located adjacent to Dudy Noble Field. The spacious facility, made possible by a generous lead gift from former MSU great Rafael Palmeiro and his wife Lynne, features a regulation infield practice area, additional training area and three retractable batting cages.
Nestled between the Palmeiro Center and Dudy Noble Field is the baseball coaches office complex, also completed in 2005. The complex, which also houses a baseball heritage room, was made possible by contributions from former Bulldog players Jeff Brantley, Will Clark, Eric DuBose, Paul Maholm, Jay Powell and Bobby Thigpen and former MSU manager James “Bo” McKinnis.
Mississippi State’s baseball complex received a boost with the addition of the Bryce Griffis Boardroom, a $1.5 million, meeting/banquet hall extension on the south end of the Palmeiro Center. The facility features banquet seating for approximately 350.
Facility upgrades totaling more than $2 million in the past three years include an expanded state-of-the-art high definition video board, the addition of a new drainage and irrigation system along with a new carpet of natural sod and infield dirt, and expanded dugouts. Even the grandstand got a little more grand with a resurfacing and repainting project topped by all-new cupholder-equipped maroon chairback seats and the installation of a new sound system. Prior to the start of the 2012 campaign work was completed on the installation of a new sound system, a 36,000-watt amplification system evenly distributing sound on a 78-speaker system throughout the stadium.
These latest facility enhancements continue an on-going Mississippi State campaign to maintain the standing of Dudy Noble Field as one of the nation’s premier venues for college baseball.