Image credit: (Photo by Binghamton Athletics)
Binghamton stunned the college baseball world just before Opening Day when it announced it had received a $60 million anonymous gift to build a new baseball stadium.
The Bearcats are a strong program in the America East Conference who have made the NCAA Tournament four times in the last 11 seasons – and were the preseason the favorite to win the league this season. But $60 million for a baseball stadium at Binghamton? The number was jaw dropping for many around the country.
At $60 million, Binghamton’s stadium is tied for the fourth most expensive stadium in college baseball. TD Ameritrade Park, home of the College World Series and Creighton, cost $131 million when it opened in 2011. Mississippi State’s Dudy-Noble Field opened last season at a cost of $68 million. Florida is building a new stadium set to open next season with a price tag that was initially announced at $65 million. Oklahoma State’s O’Brate Stadium will open later this spring at an estimated $60 million.
That list is not adjusted for inflation and doesn’t account for a school like Arkansas that has chosen to add to its stadium over the last two decades. Still, that’s the pool Binghamton is now swimming in – Florida, Mississippi State and Oklahoma State.
Coach Tim Sinicki has been at Binghamton for 28 years and his son Tanner is now a sophomore righthander on the team. He’s been a part of the process of getting the project to a groundbreaking for several months now and is still overwhelmed by the gift.
“The generosity of the donor family, to try and put it in words, I really haven’t found a way yet,” Sinicki said. “It’s incredibly generous and overwhelming. We wanted to honor their wishes and desires and got to where we’re at right now.”
While Sinicki was privy to the details of the project, the Bearcats were not before the official announcement. If construction began early enough, they were going to be forced to play off-campus this spring and had been told that was a possibility. But they hadn’t been told of the size and scope of the project.
When they did get the details, the players were “beyond excited,” Sinicki said.
“You can sit there and dream up what you think, and I think they had an idea but not what they witnessed (at the announcement),” he said. “The younger guys especially said they were blown away. The excitement of being in the room for the press conference and the president announcing it and the standing ovation throughout, I know they’ll cherish that as well.”
The Bearcats have reason to be excited. The stadium will have all the amenities expected of today’s elite stadiums. There’s a spacious player lounge and nutrition area, a theater-style team meeting room, hydrotherapy pools, a study lounge, suites and a VIP lounge. There’s a large tiered berm seating area down the left field line and a spacious entrance plaza. The indoor facility features a full infield and large batting tunnels.
Construction is expected to take about a year after groundbreaking, tentatively slated for this summer. The indoor facility, which represents Phase II of the project, will take an additional year.
College baseball’s building boom began in the Southeast and has since moved throughout the country. The Northeast, however, was late to join the party. The region historically has not been a bastion for the game but in the last decade programs like Boston College, Bryant, Connecticut, St. John’s and Stony Brook have shown that success is possible in the region.
Improved facilities have followed. BC opened a new stadium last year and UConn will open its long-awaited new ballpark later this spring. Now Binghamton will follow with its own new stadium.
Seeing that kind of investment from schools in the Northeast is a positive for the sport. Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin, who was born in New Hampshire and recruits the region as well as anyone, said he’s excited to see the development, which he thinks is attributable to the increased visibility of the sport on TV.
“For schools in the Midwest and the northeast, areas where the climate and the conditions aren’t always favorable, it says a great deal,” Corbin said. “It says we’re going to invest in our program. I realize that private people have to step up and do that, but at the same time Binghamton could say, ‘No, we want that to go to our engineering school.’
“But when people start looking at collegiate baseball as ways to invest and build then you’re seeing what the effect of TV has done.”
For Binghamton, the new stadium means it will have the best facility in the Northeast. What, exactly, that means remains to be seen.
The America East is consistently a one-bid league in the NCAA Tournament, even after Stony Brook made a Cinderella run to the College World Series in 2012. That isn’t likely to change anytime soon. Binghamton is still in Upstate New York and faces the same challenges that have plagued cold-weather schools in recruiting for years. It still is a well-regarded school academically with tough admissions standards.
The question is whether the new stadium and the player development facilities will help Binghamton recruits that those factors don’t matter as much going forward.
Sinicki isn’t sure. He knows the new stadium will raise Binghamton’s profile with recruits, but he doesn’t want that to change the program’s DNA.
“I’m sure there will be a lot of kids that want to come and play for the university,” Sinicki said. “For us to make strides, we have to find the right kids. That’s always been a challenge. We’re not going to change admission standards and the No. 1 priority at the university is to have the right students to handle the academics. That’ll all play out once we get kids on campus.
“We’ve had some success. We have been recruiting really good student-athletes up to this point. To say we’re going to get good student-athletes now would almost be insulting to the guys we’ve had in the past. Our past is the reason we have what we have right now and led to this donation.”
The long-term effects of the stadium will be fascinating to watch develop. Perhaps in a future round of realignment Binghamton will move to a different conference that helps it better compete for an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament. Binghamton could grow to truly dominate the America East and make a run to Omaha, like Stony Brook did.
Anything feels possible right now. College baseball is watching as a stadium grows in Binghamton.