Build it in Blacksburg Series: Intro and Part One
Intro: A Fresh Start
If someone were to ask me “What’s the best time to be a fan?”, my answer is usually the same… the exact moment following a rebuild, when the new coaches, players, and staff finally seem to turn the corner, start winning some games, and it feels like only the small group of true believers are enjoying the initial wave of excitement.
Well, I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but that time is right now for Hokie baseball.
Following their first series road win in Coral Gables (yes, you read that right, not the first in a few seasons, or since joining the ACC… EVER, as in all-time, as in, it had never been done before) against a top-ranked Miami program, the Virginia Tech baseball team is finally realizing the fruits of its “Build it in Blacksburg” rebuild, a team mantra which has been a little over 3 years in the making.
And while the recent seasonal coverage has been phenomenal regarding the games, players, and coaches, I wanted to take a look back and focus more on the process to help answer the question…
How, in only three years, did Virginia Tech “Build it in Blacksburg”?
Going back to the end of the 2017 season, one where the Hokies had just finished with a 23-32 overall record, to include an abysmal 9-21 record against the ACC, the casual fan would have assessed the state of the program and deemed it unsalvageable, and for good reason given that Virginia Tech was facing the following realities:
● Worst facilities in Power 5 college baseball
● Recently fired head coach
● Bottom tier roster talent level in regards to its ACC competition
But to a core few in the Athletic Department, those realities served as more of a benchmark from which to establish a new beginning.
The strategy going forward?
Pretty much the same for most other baseball programs looking to rebuild:
● A commitment to building top-end facilities commensurate with an elite ACC program
● Hire a head coach with the ability to consistently recruit and develop high-end talent
● Tap into a mid-Atlantic recruiting region that is rife with potential MLB prospects
So how did Virginia Tech, a program that for all intents and purposes has been mostly an afterthought, accomplish this strategy?
Well, that’s what we will try to find out with the Build it in Blacksburg series.
PART ONE: English Field... of Dreams.
Look good, feel good, play good.
While that anecdote usually pertains to uniforms, in this case, the same can be said for English Field.
Now if you haven’t been to Blacksburg since the spring of 2018, chances are you were probably used to turning off Route 460 onto Southgate Drive, and upon reaching the iconic “VT” landscaping headed towards Duck Pond Drive, were greeted with this…
No, that's not a replica of a World War II pillbox, but rather, it was the prior English Field press box and "grandstands".
Not exactly what you would refer to as... inspiring.
And as stated above, it wasn't hyperbole by saying that Virginia Tech baseball was in contention for having the worst facilities in all of Power 5 college baseball.
So I can only imagine, even if Tech had the right coach, development staff, and recruiting processes in place, the old version of English Field would have always served as a deterrent to taking the next step, not making it impossible (especially if you've ever seen the facilities at Duke), but for a program nestled in the remote region of Southwest Virginia, it definitely wasn't helping.
A commitment to building top-end facilities
The good news was, plans to overhaul English Field were actually set in motion during the late summer of 2016 when the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors approved an $18 million renovation plan for the baseball stadium, English Field, now fully named, English Field at Atlantic Union Bank Park after the financial institution had committed $3.5m to support ongoing facility improvements in exchange for 10 years of naming rights to the stadium.
And over the following two seasons, Virginia Tech in partnership with CannonDesign and Whiting-Turner Contracting Co. went to work, fundamentally transforming the baseball stadium and its surrounding facilities.
Well, they pretty much speak for themselves.
Baseball, as a fan experience, has always been about placemaking.
Finally, not only do the Hokie players have a home to be proud of... but so do the fans.
● Expanded seating? Yup.
● Terraced lawn for the family? Yup.
● Better vending options and most importantly, beer sales? Yup.
● An upstart, incredibly fun to watch, winning baseball program that finally has the level of facilities to match their on-field performance? Yup.
So as winter turns to spring every year, I can think of no better way to spend a relaxing sunny Blacksburg day, than migrating over to English Field, grabbing a brew, and settling in for a few hours to cheer on the Hokie baseball team.
To end PART ONE, I'll leave you with the iconic quote from my favorite baseball movie of all time, "Field of Dreams", where The Voice says to Ray Kinsella:
"If you build it, he will come."
Well, in this case, they built it and it's time for Hokie fans to show up.
But don't just take my word for it, take Tim Kurkjian's...