STILLWATER, Okla. Oklahoma State baseball fans will have to wait 11 months to see the first pitch at O’Brate Stadium.
It was a long-awaited moment that was supposed to happen last Friday night when the Cowboys were set to host TCU in their Big 12 Conference opener. The series and the following mid-week game against Wichita State were sold out.
However, the coronavirus pandemic canceled the rest of the spring sports season for Big 12 and NCAA athletics, and it all happened one week before the new OSU baseball stadium was set to open its doors to thousands of eager fans.
It was supposed to have been a 6 p.m. start last Friday for the series and the new home for the Cowboys. All of that gone in a flash once sports seasons were canceled around the country.
“All you can do is understand that it wasn’t meant to be,” OSU coach Josh Holliday said. “Something happened that was outside of everybody’s control and is a much bigger deal than sports. We’ll just get through this and figure things out once we can work our way back to total safety and health of the people on campus, and then we’ll re-establish our next plan.
“It is what it is. Obviously, everybody would like to live life like we were accustomed to, but that’s not what we were dealt. We’ll get to a grand opening at some point, and when we do, it will be exciting.”
Holliday said he didn’t have a good feeling for the remainder of the season when the NCAA made its announcement last week to cancel winter and spring sports championships. It was then he began to realize the chance of opening O’Brate Stadium this spring was going to be slim.
“I don’t think anybody thought that once the College World Series was suspended that there was probably much of a season to be played,” Holliday said. “Obviously, it’s been somewhat of a staging as far as the level in which things have been canceled. It kind of started out at the very end and then worked its way in reverse, as far as cancellations. I would have said that once the NCAA canceled the College World Series that it sent a pretty serious message that this is a pretty serious health issue that needs to be taken care of in that way, and everybody else was going to follow suit.
“It all happened rather quickly. We were just in position to learn about things as they occurred and then react accordingly. That’s really all we’ve been able to do the past week. There’s no way around it that it’s disappointing,” Holliday said. “At the same time, it’s not disappointing when compared to the alternative, which is the risk of people getting sick and all of the things that go along with that. That definitely takes center stage.”
The $60 million home of the Cowboys should open when the Cowboys begin their spring 2021 season. The schedule isn’t released yet, but a late-February opening can be expected.
It’s also possible the Cowboys play some fall baseball games at the new stadium. They could also play those at historic Allie P. Reynolds Stadium, which has likely seen its final regular season game after a 40-year run as the home of the Cowboys.
Plans for next year are still up in the air as everyone affected by the shutdown works through other things and awaits going back to their normal routines.
“We haven’t had a chance as an administration or staff to get together on that,” Holliday said. “Other things have been more pressing for the university, as far as taking care of the students and employees. I’m sure when the time is right, we’ll put our heads together and figure out our plan for opening the stadium.”
The new stadium is named for benefactor Cecil O'Brate. He was born in Enid and attended Oklahoma State (Oklahoma A&M) from 1946-48 and went on to become a successful entrepreneur.
O’Brate Stadium was scheduled to open with former U.S. President George W. Bush throwing out the ceremonial first pitch before the series opener.
Will that still happen next year?
“That was Mr. O’Brate’s good friend,” Holliday said. “I’m sure a lot of that has to do with his availability. That was definitely going to be a cool thing to have.”
The Cowboys were slated to host four Big 12 weekend series, in addition to playing Oregon State in their new home stadium to kick off May. They also hoped to host an NCAA Regional in the new venue.
When the stadium opens next year, it should be complete. Even if it had opened last weekend, it wasn’t completely finished.
“People have been working awfully hard to have it done for us and allow it to open,” Holliday said. “So, a lot of people hustled, that’s for sure. This definitely extends the amount of time to do some of the last-minute things or the small finishes that time had not allowed for just yet. When the time comes, it will be great. Everybody involved was totally committed to the project from start to finish, and it’s exciting to see people work together that hard.
“We definitely have had that synergy between the school and the construction and the fans and everyone involved. Everybody was excited and working toward something that we can all enjoy. It’s just going to have to go on delay for a little bit, but it will still be the same joyous moment whenever that is.”
The OSU baseball staff now awaits the day it can move into O’Brate Stadium. That will likely happen when they are allowed to resume normal activities, with the exception of playing games.
As far as the players, most have left campus and headed home since OSU announced the rest of the spring semester classes will be online as the campus is closed because of the pandemic.
Some of the Cowboys will wait to see what happens with the MLB Draft that’s scheduled for June. Right now, even that’s in jeopardy as the MLB season has been delayed.
Others, especially the seniors, await a decision from the NCAA on whether spring athletes will receive an extra year of eligibility since the season was cut quite short. That decision is expected March 30.
“Certainly the NCAA’s position on everything that pertains to our players is a big deal,” Holliday said. “The players each know their individual cases and their futures to us are very important. The NCAA’s decision to either grant an extra year to all seniors or to grant an extra year to all players, for that matter, will obviously be a big deal. So, whenever that decision is made and how it’s going to work, we will be paying close attention to that, meet with our players and try to understand what the future looks like.”