Coach Marty Lees and Washington State got an important nod of approval Friday as they continue to play catch-up in the Pac-12 Conference’s baseball facilities arms race.
The school announced Friday that Washington State’s Board of Regents has OK’d the $10 million project that will allow the Cougars to make long-awaited renovations to Bailey-Brayton Field, with hopes of restoring the success the program had in the 1970s and ’80s.
Private donations will fund 100 percent of costs for the project, which WSU has named “BTO” or “Back to Omaha.” The baseball hub in Nebraska is where the College World Series is held annually. The Cougars haven’t advanced to the postseason since 2010 and only have two NCAA Tournament appearances in the past 18 years.
“This project has dated back for quite some time and it kind of started and stalled and started and stalled, and when I started, president (Kirk) Schulz made it clear priority No. 1 is we’ve got to get this project finished,” WSU Director of Athletics Pat Chun said Thursday over the phone.
Nearly $2 million in donations and pledges flowed in over the past 12 months to help WSU meet its $10 million goal.
“If we were going to move on to the (football) indoor practice field, we had to finish the baseball project,” Chun said. “We have to get all of our Cougs thinking a bit different about philanthropy and how they can impact Washington State. … It was a priority especially because of the history of that program. Our facility had fallen behind the rest of the conference and you look at the impact of Martin Stadium renovations, football operations building, the Lower Soccer Field … facilities do make a difference.
“And baseball, because you kind of live at your ballpark, this is just an important step to give coach Lees and his team the tools to not only recruit to, but to really develop our team there.”
The primary objective of the project will be to construct a baseball clubhouse that features a locker room, coaches offices, team meeting rooms, a players lounge and mementos recognizing WSU’s baseball history.
In his conversations with Lees, Chun said the coach voiced the need for “the basic necessities, but modernized if that makes sense.”
“There’s such a teaching component of baseball now, that he needs more classroom space, he needs more film space, they want to do more with pitching and video,” Chun said. “They want to do be able to have weights there where he could, no different than a professional ballclub, to be able to have a guy or a pitcher or anyone work out after they’re done playing right away just to keep them in rhythm.”
For a long time, WSU had one of the most successful baseball programs in the region under coach Bobo Brayton, who shares the ballpark’s namesake with Buck Bailey. The Cougars have 16 NCAA Tournament appearances and have advanced four times to the CWS. They made the postseason every year from 1975-78 and went back four more times between 1984-90.
WSU will break ground on the facility upgrades this summer, with completion scheduled for the 2021 season.
“What a great day to be a Cougar,” said Lees, who enters his fourth season as WSU’s coach. “Thank you to the Board of Regents, our administration, alumni, donors and fans. This will provide a tremendous boost to our current and future players and we couldn’t be more excited for what the future holds surrounding Cougar baseball.”
Lees, a former Oregon State and Oklahoma State assistant, led the Cougars to a winning season in 2015 (29-27). They hit a road bump in 2016, going 19-35, but improved again last season with a record of 24-29.
A handful of WSU’s conference rivals, and all three in the Pacific Northwest that compete for many of the same recruits, have renovated their baseball facilities over the past decade.
Cross-state nemesis Washington put the final touches on a new $15 million park in 2014. Oregon State baseball alum Jacoby Ellsbury shelled out $1 million to help the Beavers complete a $3 million renovation project in 2015. Oregon completed PK Park in 2009, spending between $15-18 million on a facility that seats 3,600 and also houses the minor-league Eugene Emeralds.
Chun believes WSU will be in the thick of the facilities race once renovations are completed in Pullman.
“It’s a beautiful setting and the turf is, I think, only two seasons old,” Chun said. “And with the cages we already have, once that indoor practice field is kind of finished along that first-base line in right field – where baseball will live a lot – once the whole footprint is finished, I think that’ll give us a significant edge in terms of not only the Northwest but in the West Coast, because northern schools can win at baseball.”
Bailey-Brayton Field opened its current location in 1980, added an electronic scoreboard in 1981 and installed new lighting in 1984. The most recent renovation to the historic venue came in 2017, when WSU replaced FieldTurf with AstroTurf’s state-of-the-art Diamond Series playing surface.