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October 28, 2008

Rivals 10: College baseball's best stadiums

VOTE: What is the best college baseball stadium?

Tradition can be defined in many ways.

Some believe tradition reflects what a baseball program has done in the past, while others also point to stadium atmosphere and incredible fan support as important traditions.

Florida State, Arkansas, Ole Miss and Mississippi State certainly know how it feels to have a stadium and program oozing with tradition.

FSU has a beautiful ballpark and a passionate and witty fan base, while Arkansas fills Baum Stadium rain or shine. Rivals Ole Miss and Mississippi State also share a common thread. Ole Miss has a wild atmosphere while State still has the single-game attendance record of 14,991, set in 1989.

LSU and South Carolina were omitted from our list because both schools have ballparks that still are under construction.

We rank our favorite college baseball stadiums.

Baum Stadium -- Arkansas

Baum Stadium is the palace of college baseball stadiums. Though many schools now are building new stadiums, they still are playing catch up with the Razorbacks. When Baum Stadium was erected in 1996, it was the class of college baseball. Not much has changed, as the capacity currently is 10,500 and luxury suites extend from the left-field foul pole to the right-field foul pole. Arkansas fans also pack the house rain or shine and provide a premier home-field advantage for their baseball program. Everyone aspires to have a facility like the University of Arkansas.

Reckling Park -- Rice

When the Owls decided to build a new stadium in the 1990's, little did we know that it eventually would be one of the nation's best facilities. Well, it is. The Reck, as Owls fans call it, has a cozy feeling and is nestled in the middle of the West University and Medical Center areas of Houston. Reckling Park has a capacity of 5,300 and recently had renovations that included a new playing surface, outfield wall and state-of-the-art videoboard and scoreboard. The Reck also includes a plush press box and several luxury suites. Reckling Park is a great place to watch a game.

Hawks Field -- Nebraska

The Huskers have come a long way the past few seasons. The Big Red used to play its games at Buck Beltzer Stadium, which happened to be one of the worst stadiums in the Big 12 Conference. Now the Huskers play at Hawks Field, which is one of the nation's elite ballparks. The Huskers began playing at Hawks Field in 2002 and immediately reaped the benefits of their new facility. The capacity of Hawks Field is 8,500 and the two-deck grandstand with a plethora of outfield seating makes this ballpark a great place to watch a game. Huskers fans also do a great job of supporting their team.

Dick Howser Stadium -- Florida State

If you're ever around Tallahassee, Fla., in the spring, be sure to stop by Dick Howser Stadium and check out a Florida State baseball game. The stadium went through a $12 million dollar renovation project that was completed in 2004, and now is one of college baseball's finest facilities. Dick Howser currently has a capacity of 6,700 and is a beautiful structure from the outside. The seats inside the stadium are on top of the field and the Animals of Section B, the nation's best spirit group, have helped create an atmosphere that only is rivaled by those in Baton Rouge, La.

Polk-Dement Stadium -- Mississippi State

No school blows out a postseason party in a regional or super regional quite like Mississippi State. While the Bulldogs struggle to fill the stands until the weather warms up, Polk-Dement Stadium is an excellent venue to watch a game. In addition to a roomy grandstand, the Bulldogs also have what is called the "Left-Field Lounge", where patrons line the outfield wall with barbeque pits, coolers and whatever else they can get in their possession. The official capacity for the stadium, including outfield seating, is 15,000. Those that watched the Starkville super regional two seasons ago know exactly what the Bulldogs are about at Polk-Dement Stadium.

UFCU Disch-Falk Field -- Texas

When the Longhorns constructed Disch-Falk Field in 1975, it was college baseball's crown jewel. That label certainly faded away years after the completion of the facility, as the ballpark was in poor shape until the Longhorns engaged in a $21 million dollar renovation project, which changed the stadium's name to UFCU Disch-Falk Field. In addition to a recently installed scoreboard, the Longhorns now have bullpens in the outfields, a new state-of-the-art clubhouse, armchair seats, luxury suites and an outstanding press box. The new Disch-Falk Field has a capacity of 6,649 and makes a strong first impression with a modern fašade.

Baylor Ballpark -- Baylor

As with many universities, Baylor also has gotten heavily engaged in the ongoing facilities race in college athletics. The Bears broke ground on the Baylor Ballpark in 1998 and opened the stadium in 1999. The Baylor Ballpark has a beautiful fašade and the seats are close to the field. Additionally, the Bears have a grass berm down the right-field line and a great clubhouse. The capacity of the Baylor Ballpark is 5,000. However, the Bears packed 5,602 spectators into the ballpark for a 2004 meeting against Texas. Strategically placed next to the Brazos River, this is a great place to watch a game.

Oxford-University Stadium -- Ole Miss

Ole Miss has one of the hidden gems in college baseball. Though observers in the Southeastern part of the country know about the great atmosphere at Oxford-University Stadium, people nationally just now are getting a taste of what the Rebels are about. O-U Stadium holds about 3,500 spectators in the main grandstand, but thousands of fans often line the grassy areas down the left and right field lines and the outfield. In 2005, a record 10,119 fans were in attendance as the Rebels played Alabama. Ole Miss currently is in the midst of a renovation campaign that will increase grandstand seating.

Plainsman Park -- Auburn

When the Tigers decided to renovate their facility in 1996, many schools, including Baylor, took notice of the project. Plainsman Park is one of the nation's best stadiums and has a wonderful fašade to go with a cozy atmosphere. Plainsman Park has a capacity of 4,096 fans. However, the record attendance for a single-game was set in 2002, as 4,715 fans packed the stadium to watch Auburn play LSU. Recently, the Tigers have installed a new drainage system for the playing surface and a state-of-the-art strength and rehabilitation center. Auburn certainly is a trendsetter.

Lubrano Park -- Penn State

Penn State is one of several trendsetters in college baseball. The Nittany Lions got a jump-start in the facilities race by constructing a beautiful facility that came with a $31.4 million dollar price tag. Opened in '06 and first used by the Nittany Lions in '07, Lubrano Park has a capacity of 6,000. In addition to having a spacious concourse and press/luxury suites area, Lubrano Park also provides a spectacular view of Mount Nittany, which sits in the distance behind the center field wall. It'll be interesting to see if the ballpark eventually helps PSU become a national player.

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at rogersk@yahoo-inc.com.