Northwest Florida State Baseball Complex – NWF Raiders
Photos by Matt Colville, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.00
Northwest Florida State Baseball Complex 100 E College Blvd Niceville, FL 32578
Year Opened: 1992
Juco Baseball on the Beach
Northwest Florida State College is a large public state college located on the outskirts of Eglin Air Force Base in Niceville, Florida, about ten miles north of the beach resort town of Destin. The college originally opened in 1963 as Okaloosa-Walton Community College, and a temporary campus was constructed on the base of Eglin until the permanent location opened at its present site in 1969. NWF began offering four-year degrees in 2003, changing its name to Northwest Florida State College in the process.
NWF is unique in that even though they are a four-year state college they still compete on the JUCO level as members of NJCAA Panhandle Conference. The conference includes 5 schools, all in the panhandle of Florida – NWF, Pensacola State College, Gulf Coast State College, Chipola College, and Tallahassee Community College.
Since the first season of NWF Baseball in 1992 the Raiders have been one of the better teams in the Panhandle Conference. The Raiders have won Panhandle Conference four times (1996, 2000, 2011, and 2019), and made 12 FCSAA/Region 8 postseason appearances. Perhaps the best season was in 2015 when they advanced to and won the NJCAA World Series, claiming the Raiders first and only National Championship.
Food & Beverage 2
There is one concession stand open at the front entrance of the Baseball Complex that has a limited menu – hot dogs and Gatorade at $3; popcorn, candy, and water at $2; chips and coffee at $1. Canned drinks are also sold for $2 but they only have Coke and Sprite. They also sell NWF baseball hats in three different colors and styles for $20 a hat. I thought it was really cool they sell the hats, as NWF has a really cool logo.
Northwest Florida Baseball Complex opened in 1992 and features capacity for about 800 fans The field faces northeast and is located on the back side of campus. There is one main entrance behind home plate, with the main feature that stands out being the large 2015 National Champions sign that greets you as you enter the Baseball Complex. The concessions stand is right under the large brick press box tower behind home plate as soon as you enter the Complex. The grandstand features 10 rows of metal bleacher seating that extend from home plate to the dugouts. It can get kind of crammed here as you cannot see the game from anywhere except the bleachers. There is not a lot of standing room here either as you cannot walk in front of the bleachers; there is just a little space near the dugout for you to stand. So for the most part you are confined to the grandstands.
The visitors’ dugout is down the first base line, while the third base line features the home dugout and clubhouse, which includes locker rooms and indoor batting cages for the baseball and softball teams. They also have some outdoor batting cages that the visiting team utilizes. The outfield signage features local business advertisements alongside a crimson picket fence, giving the NWF Baseball Complex a real small, hometown feel. I almost felt like I was at a small-town high school baseball game. A basic scoreboard also sits in left field that shows the line score and says ‘2015 National Champions’ along the top.
The school’s athletic facilities provide the backdrop beyond the outfield. The Raiders Softball Complex takes up the left field and is constructed as an exact replica of the Baseball Complex. If you want some good views of the baseball game you can even sit in the softball bleachers that loom over the outfield wall. The school’s basketball home, the Arena at NWF sits in right field next to a large on-campus water tower that provides an impressive view from the bleachers.
There’s not much happening in Niceville, as it remains mostly a retirement and military community. The college sits just off base property and the neighboring areas consist of woods and outlying airfields. However, there are few places in the city worth checking out – a few miles south of the college is Turkey Creek Trail, which features a boardwalk over a beautiful crystal clear creek. The trail runs deep into the woods and even has spots where you can hop off the boardwalk and go swimming in the creek. The U.S. Air Force Armament Museum also sits nearby in an old airplane hangar. When driving by you can’t miss the place as giant planes are scattered on the grounds. Inside are 29 restored vintage airplanes as well as the largest collection of artifacts and memorabilia associated with the Air Force. The museum has free admission and remains a hidden gem spot if you are in the area and want to experience something different than the beach life.
But if you want to experience this area of Florida at its best you just have to go about 10 miles south of campus to one of the top tourist destinations in the country, the Emerald Coast. Destin remains the most popular resort town on the Emerald Coast, with 80 percent of the over 5 million tourists each year who visit staying in Destin. The beach is what brings most people to the area, but the Destin area has something for everyone.
For those who like shopping, Destin has two full-sized outdoor shopping malls, Destin Commons and Silver Sands Premium Outlets. For nature lovers there are two state parks, Henderson Beach State Park and Grayton Beach State Park, with secluded beach access and plenty of camping and bike trails. For family activities, Destin has a water park and two amusement parks with rides and small roller coasters (Big Kahuna’s and The Track).
Destin is also known as a sportsman’s paradise with its nickname as the World’s Luckiest Fishing Village. Countless marinas offer public and private charter fishing. You can go 80 miles out in the gulf to fish in deep waters or you can fish in the bay, or take a trip out to Crab Island, a popular sandbar right under the Destin Bridge in the Pass which is only accessible by water and boat. There are also over 20 golf courses in the area ranging from public to private – Destin is known as the “Golf Capital” of Northwest Florida.
The area also has many restaurants in all the little beach communities around Destin. You may spot Jerry Jones, Emeril Lagasse, Tim McGraw, or one of the Mannings while dining at one of the many Five Star restaurants in Baytowne Village, or you could visit the more touristy restaurants and bars at Destin Harbor or Okaloosa Island. But to experience Destin like the locals, try some of the upscale seafood restaurants at Miramar Beach or in the Sandestin area, or to experience another famous section check out Seaside, a community which is most famous for being the filming site of The Truman Show with Jim Carrey. Yes, Destin and the whole area have it all and you could spend weeks in the area and have plenty to do.
There were only a couple of hundred fans in attendance at my most recent visit. It can get kind of cramped in the bleachers because there is no standing room and everybody is confined to the grandstands. A lot of time you will be stepping over people when getting up and going to the restroom or concessions; luckily at least there is a lot of legroom in the metal bleachers. Because of its beach location NWF also attracts a lot more visiting fans than most junior colleges would.
Many players’ parents take advantage of weekend series here by getting to watch their son play college baseball and get a weekend beach trip out of the deal. During my most recent visit, the Raiders played a Junior College from Mississippi and there were more visiting fans than Raiders fans. After talking to some of their fans they told me that they were all staying at the same hotel on the beach for the weekend.
There are two ways to get to NW; if coming from out of town to the north take I-10 to the Crestview exit, then drive about 20 minutes south on Highway 85. The highway is a rural back road that runs through Air Force Base property so there is little there in terms of scenery. The college is conveniently located on the corner of College Blvd and Highway 85, with the NWF Baseball Complex located on the back side of the campus. But if coming from the south the Mid-Bay Bridge runs right out of Destin and onto Highway 85. The bridge is a toll road and is constantly having work done on it, so the three-mile bridge could take upwards of twenty minutes to cross.
Once on campus the stadium is easy to find; just look for the giant water tower and beautiful basketball arena. There are also plenty of parking lots so that shouldn’t be an issue. Once inside the actual Baseball Complex the only areas you are free to move around in is the bleachers, so it could get kind of crammed during a packed game.
Return on Investment 4
There is a table set up at the main gate where they sell general admission tickets for $5, and you are free to sit anywhere in the grandstands with these. During the most recent game I was at there was actually a player serving as a ticket taker. I loved the small-town laid-back feel here. You are also free to leave and come back as many times as you want, as I left during the game to ride my bike around campus for about an hour, before coming back to watch the rest of the game.
With the cheap concessions one can purchase a ticket, drink, and hot dog for less than $10. Also you get to see some of the top JUCO players in the State of Florida. Early in the season NWF plays schools from as far away as Miami, so you are guaranteed to see some players that will eventually be taken in the MLB Draft.
The Raiders have had seven players make it to the Big Leagues in the program’s history. The most notable alumni include Outfielder Jason Michaels who had an 11-year career with the Phillies, Mets, and Astros; relief pitcher Tony Sipp who played 11 seasons with the Indians, Astros, and Nationals, and won back-to-back World Series rings in 2018 and 2019; all-star pitcher Hector Santiago who played with the White Sox, Twins, and Mariners; and Pensacola native pitcher Jeff Farnsworth who was drafted in the second round out of NWF in 1996 and spent the 2002 season in the bullpen for the Tigers. Headed into the current season there are currently six NWF alumni on minor league rosters, as well as one in the Majors.
The college also gets in national spotlight every November around Thanksgiving, as the arena in right field hosts the Emerald Coast Classic College Basketball Tournament. The first year of the tournament was in 2014 and usually takes place during Feast Week, college basketball’s version of Bowl season. Ole Miss, Iowa State, Virginia, Creighton, Cincinnati, Florida State, Tennessee, and LSU are just some of the top basketball teams to come through the campus to play games.
Another extra for the historical significance of the campus – in the beginning of 1942 Air Force Lt. Colonel Jimmy Doolittle used Eglin AFB and the area where the campus is located as a training ground for a secret mission. Ultimately they were putting the plans in motion to bomb Tokyo in retaliation for Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbor. The Tokyo Raid marked a major turning point in the US’ favor during WWII and Doolittle would receive the Congressional Medal of Honor for his efforts. When the current campus opened in 1963 the teams were nicknamed the Raiders in honor of Jimmy Doolittle and his crew. For years the surviving members of Doolittle’s Raiders would hold their annual reunion on the campus. NWF’s mascot is even a World War II era pilot named Jimmy; there is a small historical display at the front of the Arena’s main entrance.
Another extra just for the college’s prime location less than 20 miles from some of the whitest beaches and clearest waters in the country. It has to be cool for some of these players to go to college so close to the beach.