Two years of hard work and preparation went in to the official opening of the brand new, $68 million Dudy Noble Field project at Mississippi State and what is, unquestionably, the best college baseball facility in the country.
Friday’s opening day festivities brought out the Who’s Who in MSU baseball’s long history and the final few proverbial nails were hammered down as the Bulldogs honored their past and celebrated the present and future.
A crowd of hundreds, perhaps thousands, gathered in front of the entrance of the new Mecca of college baseball and watched as President Mark Keenum and Director of Athletics John Cohen unveiled statues of former Diamond Dawgs Rafael Palmeiro and Will Clark. The two former Major League Baseball standouts helped put Bulldog baseball on the map back in the 1980’s and their legacy were cemented in history out in front of the stadium.
“The Yankees had two guys named (Babe) Ruth and (Lou) Gehrig, the Red Sox had two guys named “Big Pappi” (David Ortiz) and Manny (Ramirez), but college baseball fans know that the best one-two punch in history was Thunder and Lightning and that would be Will Clark and Rafael Palmeiro,” Cohen said. “Never before and never since has a college baseball program had a dynamic duo like this one.”
Also in attendance with Clark and Palmeiro was former head coach Ron Polk, who led the Diamond Dawgs to six College World Series. Polk engineered one of the best teams in school history in 1985 as Clark and Palmeiro headlined one of the best teams in baseball.
Over the course of three years, the two legendary figures combined for 477 hits, 438 RBI, 128 home runs and had a batting average of .382 combined. They were 137-46 capped by a junior season when they finished 50-15 and went to the CWS.
Palmeiro called his time in Starkville the best three years of his career. He also marveled over the new stadium.
“I want to thank coach (Polk),” Palmeiro said. “In 1982, he came to my house and invited me to Starkville, Mississippi. A Cuban kid out of Miami, I was scared to death, but when I left, I knew that it was my home. I’ve been to a lot of college ball parks and MLB stadiums and this is the big leagues. If you’re a high school player coming to college, this is the place to be.”
The statues were crafted by Dr. Rusty Reed, who was honored during the ceremony with a home plate plaque that sits in between the two statues.
“He tolled over this progress for two whole years,” Cohen said of Reed. “His attention to detail, his love and support of Mississippi State baseball along with his vision and guidance has spawned two of the great monuments on this historic campus. We can’t express how much we appreciate all of his help and effort.”
Along with the recognition of Reed and his statues of Clark and Palmeiro, Cohen also announced that the radio broadcast suites will be named after legendary broadcaster Jim Ellis.
Ellis is in his 41st season as the baseball play-by-play radio announcer. He called the careers of Clark and Palmeiro as well as countless other Bulldog greats over the years and has witnessed nine of the 10 CWS appearances.
“Jim Ellis, affectionately known as the Voice of the Diamond Dawgs, has described and interpreted countless moments in Mississippi State baseball history, broadcasting 30 NCAA baseball regionals, seven SEC tournament titles, five SEC Championship crowns and nine trips to the College World Series,” Cohen said. “From this day forth, the radio booths at Polk-Dement Stadium and Dudy Noble Field will be known as the Jim Ellis Suite.”
The recognition didn’t end Friday and it continues today at Dudy Noble Field with the inaugural Ron Polk Ring of Honor class. The first class includes Clark and Palmeiro as well as their former teammate Jeff Brantley, the late David “Boo” Ferriss and C.R. “Dudy” Noble.
It all makes up what is a special weekend for Bulldog fans and for those that have donned the maroon and white. It certainly was for Clark as he looked out at familiar faces and felt those memories come flying back through his mind.
“What an unbelievable honor,” Clark said. “One of the top things that’s happened to me in my life. I will never, ever forget Mississippi State University and wherever I go, it goes with me.”