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Official Review by Marcus Traxler, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
For the South Dakota State baseball team, Erv Huether Field has not felt like home for the Jackrabbits since its construction in 2008. But that has changed with the addition of new seating for the state’s only Division I college baseball team.
From 1957 to 2001, SDSU played at the old field of the same name but was never anything more than a ball field on the north side of campus with bleachers behind home plate. The school built over the field and SDSU spent six seasons at Brookings’ Bob Shelden Field, which is a fine municipal field but not up to the standards for a Division I team, so the school started raising funds for a new park in 2006.
The new Erv now feels a little bit more like a ballpark with the addition to a grandstand behind home plate and a permanent press box atop of the structure for the start of this 2012 season. The stadium — named after SDSU’s baseball coach from 1950 to 1983 despite a career record below .500 — now seats 600 with the grandstand. It beats the rickety bleachers that were temporary in place for the first four seasons back on campus in Brookings. The $200,000 leading gift for the new seating came from Dave Lane and his family, a former Jackrabbit shortstop in the mid-1980s, who still holds SDSU’s career stolen base record.
That said, the Jacks’ baseball home is still largely unspectacular.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
There is no permanent concession stand and along those lines, there are no permanent bathrooms but rather a Coca-Cola trailer and a pair of porta-potties. The treat selection is weak as well, with only candy and bottles of soda to satisfy fans. I would think hot dogs could be in play here too but with SDSU averaging fewer than 250 fans per game, I can see why the selection is limited to keep potential overhead low.
The atmosphere of college baseball is different from its football and basketball counterparts but the Jackrabbits' don't have much of an atmosphere around the field. The park is still largely unfinished, with crushed rock covering the ground around the seats. The PA system provides the only excitement off the field but I think SDSU wants a no-frills approach to the game, with no advertisements on the walls (although that aspect could change in the near future). With that in mind, every seat behind home plate is a good one and the middle section contains individual seats that you would find at bigger parks.
SDSU hosts Minnesota every season for one game and the annual meeting usually brings the largest crowd of the year to The Erv. However, that's not the norm with NAIA Mount Marty, Division II Sioux Falls and the other various Summit League opponents dotting the schedule annually.
Kids, like at most other small ballparks, can chase down foul balls, but if they aren't interested in the game, their entertainment is limited. There are people in the seats and music playing over the loud speaker but SDSU doesn't have much for gameday fun.
Erv Huether Field is located near SDSU's football stadium, Coughlin-Alumni Stadium and not far from the Jacks' softball diamond, which also opened in 2008. There is a gravel parking lot across the street from the field where you can park. While the field is still technically on-campus, it is far from the Student Union or any of the other academic buildings and residence halls, which in turn, affects the amount of students who show up for nine innings of Division I baseball.
As mentioned above, SDSU has people to fill the seats and keep the grandstand from being embarrassingly empty. There are a few tried and true fans who regularly support the team but other fans' turnout is sporadic. The Jackrabbits have been in the Summit League tournament final in each of the last three seasons but the Summit League's cream of the crop, Oral Roberts, has created a baseball powerhouse and will attempt to go 15-for-15 for conference titles before they leave for the Southland Conference after the 2012 season.
SDSU is easy to reach from nearby Interstate 29 and the field is not hard to find either. I mentioned the bathrooms above and it doesn't look good to have portable bathrooms for the season, but the Jackrabbits don't play many home games to begin with, so the athletic department likely has to consider its return on investment to build permanent bathrooms. SDSU has averaged 14 home dates for the last three seasons and usually doesn't play a home game until April, playing the first two months on the road with weather forcing the Jackrabbits south for at least part of winter.
It's hard to argue with the return on investment for $5 to get in. SDSU has routinely been among the highest scoring teams in the Summit League and leading the conference in runs scored in 2010 and 2011. It is entertaining baseball and with the legitimate seats behind home plate, the ballpark has become comfortable to watch a game.
One point for the well-kept grass playing surface, which has been regarded as one of the best in the Midwest.
Erv Huether Field will not rate very highly among other college baseball parks but it's cheap entertainment and quality baseball. The atmosphere and amenities still have room for improvement, but the new seats have done the park wonders, making it a solid place to watch some baseball.
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