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  • Writer's pictureMatt Colville

Pete Taylor Park at Hill-Denson Field – Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles


Photos by Matt Colville, Stadium Journey


Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.00

Pete Taylor Park at Hill-Denson Field 3321 W 4th St Hattiesburg, MS 39401


Year Opened: 1984

Capacity: 5,200

 

To the Top of the Roost

In the Pine Belt region of Mississippi lies a beautiful and very intimidating place to play college baseball. The overall game experience and atmosphere here rivals some of the best that college baseball has to offer, inside Pete Taylor Park at Hill Denson Field. The ballpark is named after Southern Miss alum Pete Taylor, while the playing surface pays homage to another Southern Miss legend, former coach Hill Denson.


The ballpark opened in 1984, and since then over one million fans have watched baseball at “The Pete.” Pete Taylor Park currently seats 5,200, routinely selling out and placing the Golden Eagles among the top teams in the country in terms of attendance, consistently finishing in the top 20 nationally every season.


In 2009 the Golden Eagles reached the College World Series, helping to elevate the program to a level of play like never experienced before. In addition to the 2009 trip to Omaha, the Golden Eagles have competed in 19 NCAA Regionals and won 5 C-USA Tournament Championships; in their first year in the Sun Belt Conference (2023) they won the conference championship. The Southern Miss Baseball program’s inaugural season was 1913, and since then the Golden Eagles have competed as an Independent (1913-1982), in the Metro Athletic Conference (1983-1995), and in C-USA (1996-2022) before joining the storied baseball Sun Belt Conference last season.



Often, when Southern Miss Baseball is brought up, people make mention of Clint King, Jeff Cook, Brian Dozier, and Todd McInnis, or younger fans remember names like Matt Wallner, Nick Sandlin, Hursten Waldrep, and Kirk McCarty. A very proud program in Hattiesburg is coming off one of its most successful runs in program history, hosting back-to-back Super Regionals over the past 2 seasons. The Golden Eagles also boast seven consecutive 40-win seasons while beating the likes of Arizona State, Florida State, LSU, and Ole Miss in postseason play – there is a reason why Hattiesburg has gained the nickname of "Baseburg.”

 

Food & Beverage   3

There are plenty of concessions at Pete Taylor Park, with three built in stands and several pop-up stands located along the concourse. The three permanent stands offer the basics of hot dogs, chicken tenders, fries, sausage dogs, and hamburgers, but everything is grab and go to speed up the lines. There is one permanent stand down the first baseline under the bleachers, and two located under the bleachers behind home plate. Another stand is the BBQ stand located down the third baseline which offers pork sandwiches and brisket. There is also a Chick-fil-A stand set up, as well as a Dippin’ Dots location.


Coca-Cola is the official soft drink of Southern Miss Athletics; if you purchase the souvenir cup for $7 you can get $1 refills throughout the game. There is one area where you can purchase draft beer for $10-$12, and you can purchase canned beers (domestic and premium) at any of the stands for $8-$10. The beer is even grab and go like you would see at a grocery store – make sure to check out the Southern Miss exclusive Gold Rush beer, brewed in Hattiesburg at Southern Prohibition Brewing, which also makes for a great place to hang out after the game.


St. Thomas Catholic Church sits beyond the outfield fence and shares a parking lot with Pete Taylor Park. On Fridays during Lent, they host a weekly fish fry. So, when the Golden Eagles are playing on Fridays during Lent, I recommend going out to the parking lot and getting a plate of some of Mississippi's best catfish. Everyone is friendly and it's almost like a small tailgate out there on Friday nights during games; Father Tommy has even been known to bless the stadium before big games.

 

Atmosphere   5

Pete Taylor Park is a beautiful ballpark situated on the north side of campus. The ballpark sits nicely tucked away next to some apartments and the church, with the first base grandstand the only thing visible from the street entrance. The facade’s grey and brick exterior blends in nicely with the surrounding apartments and the Welch Baseball Center, which looks like a giant gray house in front of the stadium mixed in with the apartment buildings.


The 6,000-square-foot Welch Center opened in 2002 and is an indoor practice facility with team offices for the baseball team. Because of the way the park is built it looks quite small from the outside, but once inside the park you can see how they fit everything in such a small area, and it’s not as crammed as you would expect. The intimidating three-story press box also stands out from the road, and is one of the first things you notice when walking through the park.


There are two main entrances; the main one behind home plate and the entrance to The Roost, which is down the first baseline. As soon as you enter the gate you walk up into a spacious and open concourse underneath the bleachers, which is completely covered for the most part – the only areas not covered are down the first baseline to the area extending to right field. Walking the concourse you can tell Southern Miss takes great pride in their baseball program, as banners of past players and the team’s NCAA Regional appearances line the ceiling as you walk to your seat.


Right before you walk out into the bleachers is a giant "Thank You Scott Berry" banner, honoring the winningest coach in program in history, who retired after the 2023 season. There is also a giant banner of the 2009 team that went to Omaha under the first base bleachers. There is also a merchandise stand set up as soon as you enter on the first base side; the merchandise stand is especially popular because it is one of the few places where you can get the Southern Miss parrot head jerseys they wear every year, which are based on Jimmy Buffett, who went to school here in the late 1960s and is probably the school's most famous alum.



The stands themselves are four sections of metal bleachers down the first and third baselines, with the seats behind home plate and the dugouts being black and gold chairbacks. You would have a hard time believing this ballpark is over 35 years old; the concourse remains very clean and there’s no sign of aging anywhere on the facade. The grass field at Pete Taylor Park for many years was nicknamed Scott Berry's Garden, because the coach would spend hours before every game making sure the field was immaculate, carefully inspecting every blade of grass – every speck of dirt had to be just right. But in 2020 the grass was replaced with an artificial turf field that provides a much fresher look, and prevents having to put the tarp on the field during the frequent Mississippi rainstorms, although fans still refer to it as Coach Berry's Garden. Southern Miss also installed a large videoboard in left field in 2021 that replaced the old, outdated scoreboard. The videoboard shows highlights of in game action and stats, as well as a pretty cool intro video when the Eagles take the field.

 

Neighborhood   4

Hattiesburg (aka The Burg) is a decent-sized city of about 50,000 people, so it has everything you could want in a city, but still retains that college town feel. The Burg has a wide selection of bars and restaurants, but unlike most college towns they are not located near each other – instead they are spread out throughout the city. A cool little spot near Pete Taylor Park to check out is the Long Leaf Trace; what was once a railroad is now a paved trail that runs right through campus; it is also possible to get on the Trace and ride a bike into the city. A couple of places within walking distance to campus from the Trace include Patio 44, Brewsky's, and 4th Street Bar – if you are looking for vintage Southern Miss memorabilia then 4th Street Bar is your place.


Another popular spot on the Trace about a half mile away from campus is Colludium Brewing Company, Hattiesburg's newest brewery. Colludium has a nice outdoor patio overlooking the Long Leaf Trace, and makes for a great spot to have a beer before the game. Closer to downtown you'll also find popular spots like Keg & Barrel, The Porter, Hattiesburger, Fairley Wings, and Nostalgia.


As a southern city, Hattiesburg has its fair share of restaurants centered on the local fare; popular spots include Crescent City Grill, Brass Hat, Midtown, Chesterfields, Ed's Burger Joint, Strick’s, and Murky Waters BBQ. There is also plenty to be had for all ages – for families there's the Hattiesburg Zoo and Serengeti Springs Water Park. Downtown also features the popular Pocket Museum, Mississippi's tiniest museum; located in an alleyway downtown, the popular museum has a different theme each month (we can't tell you where the alley is because part of the charm of the Pocket Museum is being able to find it).


For shopping there are plenty of chain stores, as well as Turtle Creek Mall, while another popular spot is the Lucky Rabbit – located downtown, Lucky Rabbit is a two-story vintage thrift store with tons of antiques and local Southern Miss memorabilia. Or if you are into the outdoors, in addition to the Long Leaf Trace there is Paul B. Johnson State Park, just south of Hattiesburg and an excellent spot for camping. In addition, another popular pastime is rafting down the Okatoma River that runs right through Hattiesburg, all the way to the Coast.

 

Fans   4

Southern Miss boasts one of the most loyal fanbases in all of college baseball. Year in and year out attendance is amongst the best in the nation. On weekends The Pete can see 5,500-plus fans pass through the turnstiles, and this dedication is rewarded with a top 20 national attendance ranking annually. Fans in The Burg are also staunch supporters of their head coach – as a program the Southern Miss head coaching job has not experienced a lot of turnover, with only 5 different head coaches over the past 65 years.


With national title aspirations in football out of reach, the Southern Miss fanbase has seized the opportunity to support their Golden Eagles on the national stage in baseball. Fans throughout Pete Taylor Park and the Right Field Roost are truly knowledgeable about both the history of the program, as well as how the landscape of college baseball pertains to them.


Located behind the right field wall and down the right field line are reserved parking spaces for 40 vehicles, several grills, and numerous props readied at a moment’s notice to highlight the follies from the opposing team; this area is known as the Right Field Roost.



The Roost is a true compliment to how the State of Mississippi does baseball. In Oxford or Starkville you can find plenty to do in both outfields, and the same holds true in Hattiesburg. Alumni, students, families, friends, children playing catch, players in the bullpens being heckled, home runs tossed back, and Southern Miss legends Hill Denson and Brian Dozier making appearances are just a few things you may encounter in the Right Field Roost at Pete Taylor Park.


The Roost, as it is more affectionately known, is where the diehard fans take in the action. Fans commanding props, train horns, and offering up wisecracks while enjoying a cold beverage make for an exciting and intimidating atmosphere, and a great day at the ballpark.


Another popular place to take in the action is the 16 oz. Lounge down the first baseline extending to the visitor's bullpen – this a concrete, bring your own chairs section, but it is also where some of the rowdier fans take in the action. Fans here start arriving more than two hours before the game just to get their spot. It is a party atmosphere here with fans drinking in their chairs and heckling the opponent's bullpen and right fielder; the only downside is there are obstructed views showing home plate, while the visiting dugout takes up the view down the line.

 

Access   4

Hattiesburg may be one of the more accessible towns in the state. Nicknamed the Hub City, it used to be a prominent railroad hub back in the day for the people wanting to get from the coast to Hattiesburg.


Conveniently located about an hour and a half from the coast, New Orleans, Jackson, Meridian, and Mobile, Hattiesburg sits right in the middle of it all. This proximity makes a weekend series very doable for the many alumni who live along the coast and in Jackson, and the roads to the Burg aren’t rural either like the ones you would take to the schools up north in Starkville and Oxford.


You will not miss the USM campus when coming to town, as the campus is located right on the corner of Highway 49 and Hardy Street, two of the main roads through the city. Interstate 55 runs to the west of the city, and you could take that as well, but you may run into considerable traffic on Hardy Street.


The ballpark is on 4th Street just across from campus to the north. If coming for a weekend game you can find plenty of parking on campus, and the USM campus is also quite small for a D1 school, so no matter where you park you won’t have to walk far. Once in the ballpark the concourses are navigable and clean, though they are a little dark since they’re under the grandstand. You should have no problem getting around, though, as you are free to roam the park.

 

Return on Investment   4

With the recent rise of the Southern Miss Baseball program came increased demand for seeing some of the best college baseball in the country. In 2023, for the first time ever tickets to every game sold out, making it nearly impossible to get tickets through the athletic department. Instead, the only way to purchase tickets now is through secondary sites – in fact this year, the athletic department tickets sold out well before the season started. In addition, if you purchase season tickets and are not able to attend a particular game, you can always re-sell it through the Southern Miss app. This makes tickets easier to come by, and fills up the bleachers that were otherwise empty for a few games when people wouldn't show.



Bleacher seating tickets are really hard to come by as well; most of the time standing room only tickets are available, however ushers rarely check, so it's possible to go sit in the bleachers for certain games even if you have SRO seats.


I would definitely recommend a trip to the Burg to watch Southern Miss baseball – almost any weekend, expect to see a full house and a top matchup with a team that has a good chance at going to a Regional, not to mention Hattiesburg is a wonderful college town, and Pete Taylor Park has one of the best atmospheres in the whole country.

 

Extras   4

The Southern Miss Baseball program has had over 90 players drafted, with a total of 22 players making it to The Show. As of last season there are three former USM players on the MLB rosters in Twins outfielder Matt Wallner, Guardians pitcher Nick Sandlin, and White Sox catcher Chuckie Robinson. Some of the more notable Golden Eagles include 2x All-Star in the 60s, third baseman for the Giants Jim Davenport, as well as famous sidearm pitcher Chad Bradford who had a 12-year Big League career, along with perhaps the greatest player to come out of Southern Miss in All-Star and Gold Glove winning second baseman Brian Dozier, who had a 9-year Big League career – before that he took Southern Miss to their first, and so far only, College World Series appearance.


The greatest punter to ever play football was also one of the greatest pitchers to ever play at USM; Ray Guy had a standout baseball career, getting drafted by the MLB three times from 1971-73, including in the third round in 1973 by the Cincinnati Reds. Ultimately he pursued football and had a Hall of Fame career with the Raiders from 1973-1986.


The Golden Eagles have also only had five head coaches over the last 60 years, and all five of them have left a mark on Pete Taylor Park. In the mid-80s former coach Hill Denson, for whom the field is named, planted the tall pine trees in the Right Field Roost. In 2022 the late former coach Corky Palmer, who guided the Golden Eagles to their only CWS appearance, had his number 44 retired – his number is painted on the turf in the on-deck circles. So, you have Coach Berry's Garden, Hill Denson's trees in right field, Corky Palmer's number in the on-deck circles, and Coach Pete Taylor for whom the ballpark is named, follow by current coach Christian Ostrander guiding the Golden Eagles beginning last season.


One extra point for the Longleaf Trace that runs right beyond the outfield at Pete Taylor Park; this 45-mile bike trail is Mississippi’s premier running, biking, and hiking trail, which starts in downtown Hattiesburg and goes west along a portion of an abandoned railroad line. The Trace is known for its scenic beauty, and makes for a great stroll before the game. It’s also possible to access all of Southern Miss’ athletic venues from the Long Leaf Trace, as it runs right by the softball and soccer facilities, and is across the street from the basketball and football stadiums.


Another point because Pete Taylor Park has hosted its fair share of postseason baseball; Hattiesburg has been selected as an NCAA regional host site three times (2003, 2017, and 2022), has hosted back-to-back Super Regionals in 2022 and 2023, and has also seen a Metro Athletic Conference tournament, as well as seven C-USA tournaments. Over the years The Pete has welcomed opponents such as LSU, Alabama, Mississippi State, Florida State, Ohio State, Cal State-Fullerton, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Baylor, Missouri, Ole Miss, TCU, Tulane, Rice, and East Carolina. Now with Southern Miss joining the baseball rich Sun Belt Conference, which sent four teams to the Regionals in 2023, on any given weekend series at Pete Taylor Park you are getting to see a potential postseason team play.



Another extra for The Roost, providing one of the best atmospheres in all of college baseball. In Mississippi, college baseball season is almost as revered as college football season, and the atmosphere and experience in The Roost prove why Southern Miss is such a big baseball school, and why college baseball is so big in Mississippi.

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