Scott Stricklin: Georgia Bulldogs way behind in baseball facilities

The Georgia Athletic Association is looking into another multimillion-dollar renovation for Foley Field, the Bulldogs' baseball stadium since 1966. (Photo by Chip Towers/ctowers@ajc.com)

Combined ShapeCaption
The Georgia Athletic Association is looking into another multimillion-dollar renovation for Foley Field, the Bulldogs' baseball stadium since 1966. (Photo by Chip Towers/ctowers@ajc.com)

UGA plans major upgrades before 2024 season

ATHENS — Asked about Georgia’s baseball facilities Monday in comparison with others in the SEC, coach Scott Stricklin didn’t hold back on his feelings.

ExploreMore AJC coverage of the Bulldogs

He harkened back to his first year on the job when he was recruiting one of the top players in the state. It had come down to the Bulldogs and one of the SEC West powers.

The unnamed player called Stricklin to tell him he had decided to go the other way.

“I asked him, ‘Hey, tell me your thoughts and why.’ And he said, ‘Coach, have you seen your stadium?’ That was the first thing he said.”

Stricklin shared that story while talking with reporters Monday at UGA’s Foley Field. The Bulldogs were getting ready to head to Hoover, Ala., for the SEC Tournament. Georgia is the No. 6 seed and will face Alabama in the first round Tuesday morning.

While the Bulldogs have been a solid, competitive SEC program during Stricklin’s nine-year tenure, this season has been typical of their profile during that stretch. That is, good but not great.

ExploreDrama on the diamond for Georgia baseball, softball

But a closer look at what Stricklin has been competing against reveals that Georgia is far behind its peers when it comes to baseball facilities.

That is a particularly stark reality when looking across Rutherford Street to the Bulldogs’ football complex. The view toward Lumpkin Street from the valley in which Foley Field has resided since 1966 has been completely obscured by $110 million of new football facilities built in the past six years.

Of course, that’s football, the breadwinner on every SEC campus. But it’s in comparison with Georgia’s baseball peers where the Bulldogs find themselves thoroughly outclassed.

That was vividly illustrated in 2014 when UGA announced its plans to renovate Foley Field. The Bulldogs proudly announced that their athletic board had approved $10 million to invest in improving the stadium and its resident player-development areas (in the end, the project ended up costing $12 million).

The next week, Mississippi State announced plans for a new $70 million stadium.

“I think we all know that kids like shiny things."

- Bulldogs baseball coach Scott Stricklin

“That’s hard to beat,” Stricklin said. “We’ve lost a lot of kids over the years. If they come here to Foley, it’s beautiful. And if they haven’t been to another place, they’re overwhelmed by it. But then you go to other places and we’re far behind, and we know that.”

UGA’s administration is well aware of that. In February, the athletic board approved athletic director Josh Brooks’ request for $950,000 to begin an architectural study to renovate and expand Foley Field yet again. They also earmarked $850,000 to do the same for softball’s Jack Turner Stadium.

The preliminary plan for Georgia baseball is to add seating plazas up the left- and right-field lines. Underneath, Stricklin is hoping to add state-of-the-art player-development facilities. Stricklin said architects asked him to list 15 improvements he’d like to see, and the first six were in the area of player development, including a new pitching lab, hitting tunnels and weight room.

Construction tentatively is planned to begin at the end of the 2023 season with completion coming in time for the start of the 2024 season.

“We’ve hired the architects, we’ve hired the builders, we’re doing drawings, we’re having meetings,” Stricklin said. “So, we’re a year away from doing a major renovation here and trying to catch up with the rest of the league.”

Georgia football coach Kirby Smart has demonstrated how important it is to compete in the facilities arms race. Since Smart was hired in December 2015, UGA has erected $174 million of new buildings dedicated exclusively to football recruiting and player development.

Not coincidentally, Georgia has signed top-5 recruiting classes in each of the past six years. The Bulldogs, of course, won the national championship in football last season.

“I think we all know that kids like shiny things,” Stricklin said.

About that, Stricklin said neither he nor the coaches of any of UGA’s other programs harbor any jealousy. Instead, he points to it as an example of what can be accomplished through financial support and commitment.

“We want them to win, and we want them to get everything they can get,” Stricklin said. “I have zero problems with any facility upgrade the football program gets because they pay the bills. We all know that. They turn the lights on. And it’s been awesome to see the development not only of the players but of the fundraising and everything that’s gone into it and around it. It helps everybody on this campus. Nobody is a bigger fan of the football program than the other coaches because we know how much it benefits us. We want them to get all that they can get.

“Certainly we want to be able to survive in this league, too, and facilities are a big part of that. We see Kirby at games all the time. He’s a big fan of the other sports and a big proponent of all the programs here, and he wants to help everybody.”

As long as Georgia’s baseball facilities are located where they are, Foley Field never will be able to compete with other SEC venues in terms of size. The Bulldogs’ stadium currently seats 3,291, which is 13th among the league’s 14 facilities. Arkansas’ Baum-Walker Stadium has the league’s largest seating capacity at 13,472. That’s followed by Mississippi State’s Dudy Noble Field (13,000), Ole Miss’ Swayze Field (11,000) and LSU’s Alex Box Stadium (10,326). The rest of the SEC’s stadiums average between 5,000 and 6,000.

UGA’s plan likely will expand Foley’s capacity to around 5,000. But venue size is not foremost on Stricklin’s mind. For him, it’s about class and functionality.

“You can come and talk about how quaint this place is and how nice it is and the neighborhood feel, and, yeah, that’s great. But go to other places in this league and you get knocked out of your chair by the facilities and the resources that they put into it,” Stricklin said. “We’re getting to that point. We’ve just tried to work as hard as we can to stay positive with what we have. And now we’re grateful that we’re making the decision to do a major upgrade.”

Dawg Tags: The AJC presents a daily look at the one thing you need to know about Georgia athletics today.