HUNTINGTON — Marshall University needs $22 million for a new baseball stadium.
Make that $21 million. Former Thundering Herd and major league pitcher Rick Reed pledged $1 million to “The Herd Rises” capital campaign to fund a new ballpark at 24th Street and 5th Avenue. Marshall Athletic Director Mike Hamrick announced Reed’s contribution Saturday morning during a groundbreaking ceremony at the Chris Cline Athletic Complex.
“On Thursday, Johnny Bench wrote us a check for $5,000,” Hamrick said of the former Cincinnati Reds catcher, who was in town as part of the Marshall Artist Series. “That’s great. Johnny Bench has no connection to Marshall. I told Rick Reed about it and Rick said, ‘I can do better than that. I’m giving $1 million.’”
The crowd of about 250 in attendance for the groundbreaking collectively gasped, then applauded after hearing of Reed’s donation for a facility scheduled to open in March of 2021.
“My wife (Dee) and I discussed it,” said Reed, who starred at Huntington High before pitching at Marshall in the mid-1980s before being drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1986. “We always want to give back and we’re all onboard with this. Marshall has needed this stadium forever. I figured it up and Marshall has played about 3,000 games here. Well, not here at Marshall. That’s one hell of a road trip.”
Reed, former Herd and big leaguer Jeff Montgomery, Hamrick, legendary coach Jack Cook, current coach Jeff Waggoner, Mayor Steve Williams, MU President Jerry Gilbert, chairman of the university’s board of governors Jim Bailles and architect Brian Pounds participated in the ceremonial groundbreaking, turning shovels of dirt from a wooden box.
Cook, 93, said he was overwhelmed that a ballpark promised him when he took the Marshall job in 1967 will be built.
“This is probably one of the happiest days of my life, really,” Cook said. “I’m 93. I’ve had a lot of days, but not too many like this.”
Cook said several people have worked to make the stadium a reality, but Hamrick, Williams and Gilbert succeeded.
“(Then Marshall A.D.) Whitey Wilson in ‘67 told me if I’d come to Marshall he’d get me a new field,” Cook said. He wanted to do it. He tried. He just didn’t have the (resources) to do it.”
Marshall has played at several facilities since 1967, including St. Cloud Commons in the city’s west end and George Smailes Field off W.Va. Route 2, 7 miles from campus. The Herd also has played “home” games at Appalachian Power Park in Charleston, Linda Epling Stadium in Beckley and high school fields in Kentucky and Ohio.
“In 17 short months, we’ll be playing baseball in Huntington, West Virginia,” Hamrick said, drawing loud applause.
Hamrick joked with 13-year head coach Jeff Waggoner that, now that the Herd will have a new stadium, “the heat is on.” Waggoner laughed and said he looks forward to where the program will go.
“What a beautiful location,” Waggoner said. “This will make a small village for our athletes and fans. I’m very fortunate to have been here in the past and I’m excited for the future.”