The 2018 season is right around the corner as the Ole Miss baseball team prepares for another run that will hopefully end in Omaha. The Rebels will start paving their road to the College World Series on Feb. 16 as they play host to Winthrop in a three-game series tilt.
Last season, the Rebels finished with a record of 32-25 and got knocked out of a possible NCAA tournament berth with a 5-4 loss to Auburn in the SEC Tournament. After the last home series with the Auburn Tigers, Oxford University Stadium at Swayze Field went through some renovations that fans will surely enjoy.
Swayze Field has always brought the pageantry of college baseball to life, from the beer showers after a home run to the picnicking fans out in left field. HottyToddy’s Adam Brown caught up with Ole Miss Head Coach Mike Bianco to learn how all the changes to the stadium will factor into the Rebels’ success this season.
HottyToddy.com: What all has been added as part of the expansion?
Bianco: There’s the new 42,000-square-foot baseball performance center, including a new locker room, equipment room, hitting/pitching tunnels, weight room, lounge, nutrition center and film room; a 3,200-foot dugout club, which will add 330 seats behind home plate with a suite-like area below the seats; and a new rooftop plaza, which will be on top of the performance center, will add 170-plus seats, primarily consisting of letter winners, when it’s completed.
HottyToddy.com: What will Swayze Field’s capacity be?
HottyToddy.com: How do you think the expansion will affect the atmosphere?
Bianco: We already have a great atmosphere, one that we consider one of the best in the country already. I’m not really sure—if anything, it’s going to go up, but I think that’s hard to gauge. The neat thing is that you have fans that are going to be closer to the action behind home plate. I think that dugout club is going to be a special area. That rooftop terrace is going to be certainly unique in college baseball—it kind of gives you that Wrigley Field feel. There are some premium seats that are going to be special, but we already have a special atmosphere to begin with.
HottyToddy.com: What will be the effect of changing dugouts this season?
Bianco: Nothing. No effect whatsoever. We’ve been in that dugout for intra-squad games, regionals and super regionals, and probably the only effect that I can foresee is to make sure the catchers are used to getting the signals from that side. As a coach at LSU and McNeese, I was always in the first-base dugout, so it won’t be too hard to go back.
HottyToddy.com: Ole Miss fans have been drawn to this field in capacity crowds. How do you see the additions impacting the visiting team?
Bianco: I just think the look, the feel, is only going to improve the atmosphere.
HottyToddy.com: How do you feel the expansion will affect recruiting?
Bianco: We didn’t do this expansion for that reason, but certainly that’s going to be one of the fallouts from the expansion. We did this because the original expansion in 2009 was just to put more bodies in the seats, but with that expansion, not much was done for the players and the locker room/training room. We didn’t really have a player’s lounge, and we thought this was a necessity to keep up with the times. The locker room that we’re in now is basically the same one that they used in 1989. It’s the same locker room that Keith Kessinger got dressed in. It’s been almost 30 years, so the locker room and player amenities needed a facelift. Doing that, I think there will be an effect on recruiting—there’s no doubt they’re going to be impressed.”
HottyToddy: With the preseason ranking of number 11 and having Ryan Rolison named to preseason First Team All-America, what does that do for your team going into the season?
Bianco: It’s nice to be recognized. It’s nice to have the expectations that you’re going to have a good season. I don’t want to give the proverbial ‘The polls don’t mean anything,’ but it’s nice, it’s nice for the fans and the players to be recognized, but it usually ends there. You have to perform on the field at the end of the day, and I think the players are excited, because they think they’re good. We have a chance to have a special year, and I think that’s the most important thing.”
Adam Brown is the sports editor of HottyToddy.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.