$27M Hunt Center is a game-changer for the Razorbacks

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FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn had a palate, but needed to learn how to show it off effectively.

In size alone, the three-story, 49,000-square-foot Hunt Baseball Development Center can be overwhelming. With so much to showcase inside, Van Horn and his team enlisted a player-turned-realtor to learn best practices for guiding rookies and others on a tour of the building.

“It’s not a hard place to show, that’s for sure,” said Kyle Atkins, who wrote for the Razorbacks from 2010 to 2011 and co-owner of Arkansas Real Estate Group. “There are tons of amazing features. What I’ve tried to do is focus on all the wow factor, helping them walk into spaces that, as soon as you walk through the door, grab your attention.

With all the details that $27 million can buy, captivating moments await around every corner inside the new home of the Razorbacks. They include a clubhouse on par with the highest levels in baseball, spacious meeting and recreation spaces for players, and a centralized weight room that seems to anchor the building.

Other additions include new coaching offices, indoor practice areas and a tunnel to the new Razorbacks dugout on the first base side of Baum-Walker Stadium.

The building was designed to “sink,” Van Horn said. For example, players enter the building through a door next to the team kit room, where their shirts are placed in individual lockers across from the clubhouse lobby.

In another area of ​​the building, the nutrition area is a short walk from the weight room and work areas for team doctors and trainers.

And in another wing is an indoor pitching lab that leads to the team’s outdoor bullpen in right field.

According to Van Horn, an in-depth visit requires at least 1 hour 15 minutes.

“It’s like the Ritz-Carlton,” Atkins said. “I think the only thing that’s not there is Ruth’s Chris.”

PICTURES: Visit to the Hunt Baseball Development Center

Atkins advised staff to lead tourists from the upper level and down a staircase that overlooks a museum with trophies and exhibits that tell the history of Razorbacks baseball.

“There’s something to look at in this open space and see all of this,” Atkins said, “it’s pretty amazing.

“We are so captivated by the moments. We’re scrolling through Instagram and you have guys stopping for photos. It’s the instant gratification that grabs your attention. And then you walk into a place like this and it kind of takes you by surprise. It goes on and on, all the amazing things that are there.

Due to baseball’s recruiting timing, which is largely at a younger age than most other sports, the building – which opened last summer – hasn’t helped the Razorbacks much in their recruiting classes 2022 or 2023, but it had the desired effect on the young recruits who saw it.

“You have to find players,” Van Horn said. “You can train guys, but you have to have good players. This building will help us attract more players.

Van Horn calls the building “white collar”, a contrast to the blue collar tag attached to his teams. He said he makes sure the building doesn’t change his team.

“We get them picked up, cleaned up, done right,” Van Horn said.

The Hunt Center is similar to the Razorbacks’ Smith Center for football operations. This probably tells you everything you need to know about the scale of the building. Few, if any, other college baseball programs have space that rivals SEC football teams.

“Almost every day I walk in, I shake my head thinking, ‘Wow, that’s amazing,'” Van Horn said. “How far has college baseball come in the 20 years I’ve been here? »

The answer: a long way, especially in Arkansas.

When Van Horn was interviewed for the job in 2002, he told then-sporting director Frank Broyles that he wanted three things promised in writing before accepting.

He wanted the baseball coaches offices moved to the ballpark from the football stadium about 1 1/2 miles away. He also wanted the Razorbacks’ outside batting cages closed.

Van Horn’s biggest request was to expand the seating capacity of the stadium, which at the time had a capacity of around 3,300.

Broyles, somewhat reluctantly, agreed to the expansion and signed Van Horn away from Nebraska on the heels of the Cornhuskers’ back-to-back trips to the College World Series. Baum-Walker Stadium has been expanded and improved several times since and now has a listed capacity of 11,531.

But the Razorbacks didn’t limit the renovations to the park itself. In 2015, Arkansas opened the 52,000 square foot Fowler Family Training Center, a state-of-the-art indoor training facility.

The stadium and adjacent indoor facility and operations building dramatically changed the appearance of the Razorbacks baseball stadium.

“I was saying (Arkansas volunteer coach and former third baseman) to Bobby Wernes the other day, it’s crazy that I’ve been gone just long enough to come back… and it’s starting to look different” , Atkins said.

“I think of the culture of Dave Van Horn’s teams and how tough and competitive they are. When you do that consistently, year after year, great things come from that.”

Baseball’s return on investment has been strong. The Razorbacks are arguably amid the best streak in program history with a five-year record of 200-79. During that span — which includes a season mostly canceled by covid-19 — Arkansas has played in the College World Series twice, won or shared three SEC West championships, and been regular season and SEC Tournament champions there. a year ago.

The Razorbacks lost in the College World Series Championship Round in 2018.

“This whole facility, everything, and our interior across the street, that’s all part of it,” Van Horn said. “It’s amazing. There are more universities looking around and they’re watching TV and they’re seeing our crowds and what our league has been up to, and their fans are stepping in and helping out with a bit of support and funding. I don’t think it’s going to go away.”

With all the additions, Van Horn said all that was left to potentially improve baseball in Arkansas was new playing surface or more seats at Baum-Walker Stadium.

“There’s always going to be something technologically that will improve your detection of other teams or whatever, and we’re trying to follow that,” Van Horn said, “but I think what we’ll probably need, honestly , and Frank Broyles thought I was crazy when I said that in the summer of 2002 we’re going to need more seats here. You know, there are people who aren’t happy not to have subscriptions, and I don’t blame them. And there are people, groups of people who want those skyboxes or those suites – whatever you want to call them – and those are probably the most popular suites on campus because that we play a lot of games.”

Van Horn is in no rush to get extra seats. He understands how well he’s done it already and acknowledges that “it’s probably someone else’s turn on campus to do something about it.”

But Van Horn envisions one day having a park that could hold about 17,000 spectators for major conference weekend or NCAA playoff games. Due to limited ticket inventory, Van Horn said he was notified of four-figure secondary market ticket prices for postseason games at Arkansas a year ago.

“You know, when you hear someone paying $1,500 to watch a college baseball game, that’s kind of crazy,” Van Horn said. “I could pay $1,500 to go to the Super Bowl if the Chiefs are in it, but other than that, I’m not.

“There’s Mississippi State and Ole Miss and they’re getting 13,000 to 14,000 in their place, and I don’t think those places are bigger than northwest Arkansas. If you put a good team on the field, they will show up.

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