Final phase of Eck Stadium expansion underway
After nearly 10 years of fundraising, construction started this spring on a 10,000-square foot performance facility that will be added to Eck Stadium and give the Wichita State baseball program some of the nation’s top facilities.
The $3 million project, named Phase V, broke ground on March 20 and is slated to be complete in December and ready for the 2020 baseball season. The facility will feature a strength and conditioning center, locker room, media room, player lounge and offices for coaches and staff.
Finishing the fundraising and seeing the project through completion has become a passion project for Brent Kemnitz, who spent 38 seasons as WSU’s pitching coach and began working for the university in 2016 as assistant athletic director for outreach and staff development.
“College baseball has become an arms race, so Phase V is our way of saying, ‘Hey, we’re still here as one of the elite programs in college baseball,’” Kemnitz said. “That’s what people around here expect and we want them to expect that. We want the goal to be to go to the College World Series and certainly get into regionals. I think when people drive up and see this final phase it’s going to be a huge ‘wow’ factor.”
Phase V was the vision of former WSU coach Gene Stephenson and his staff, including Kemnitz. But fundraising stalled and momentum for the project was non-existent until Kemnitz started working for the university and made it his mission to revive the project.
According to Kemnitz, nearly 40 former Shocker baseball players have gifted $10,000 or more to the project in the last three years.
“That’s not normal around the country,” Kemnitz said. “That’s the passion that our players still have for the program. We’re going to have beautiful facilities when this is finished and we’re in this new league (American Athletic Conference) that’s a great baseball league and gives us a national profile. There are a lot of things in place that make for a very bright future.”
Current WSU baseball coach Todd Butler agrees that the Phase V project could be a game changer for the program.
“This project has been in the process over the last 10 years, and everyone is excited for the finalization of this project,” Butler said. “With the never-ending race of facilities in college baseball, the Phase V project will generate interest in all phases of recruiting and development, including things like analytics, strength and conditioning, video and accessibility to all the resources needed in today’s game.”
The Phase V project will connect to the indoor practice facility and also to a reconstructed third-base dugout, where the Shockers will return for the first time since 1992. The strength and conditioning center will also house softball and tennis players, as well as the baseball players.
Kemnitz says the project still needs around $300,000 for purchase of weights and video equipment, but he pushed for the construction to begin so donors could see visual signs of progress.
“It’s been a little bit of a grind to get this thing going,” Kemnitz said. “People look at the stadium now and say, ‘What do you mean, this thing is already amazing?’ And it is, but this is the final piece that needs to happen. It’s been in the works for 10 years now, and it’s that missing piece to an amazing facility. We need to get this done, not only so we can use it, but also for the symbolism of, ‘Hey, we’re alive and well and moving forward and there’s excitement.’”
For Kemnitz personally, it also means a lot.
He’s been with the program when it made its seven trips to Omaha for the College World Series and won the 1989 national championship.
That’s why he makes the daily trip from his office at Koch Arena over to the construction site outside of Eck Stadium. He takes pictures and videos to send out to donors, but also for himself.
After 10 years of waiting, Phase V is nearing completion.
“I knew in my heart that this thing needed to get done,” Kemnitz said. “In my career I had opportunities to leave Wichita State. There were chances in professional baseball, there were head jobs in college I think I could have had along the way. But I never wanted to leave here because this job kept getting better and better. Wichita State has become my home, and I want it to keep getting better.”