Who’s going to pinch hit for the Red Wolves baseball program?

My brother, the powerful Rex Steele, insists that he and I attended at least one baseball game while we were students at Arkansas State, but damned if I can remember it. At the time, I was a big fan of major league baseball, but I never warmed to the college game. We won a conference championship my sophomore year, with the mighty Keith Horn leading the Tribe. Don’t much recall it. If you think the Red Wolves baseball digs are Spartan now, you should have seen the Indians during the mid-1990s.

Tomlinson Stadium, which opened in 1993, has remained mostly the same since my salad days – same location in sight of Red Wolf Boulevard. Same towering edifice of aluminum stands behind home plate. Probably the same dirt in the infield, too. There have been some cosmetic improvements – honestly, it’s a pleasant little venue where one can grill your own burger or sit in stadium seating in premium locales.

The team has mostly remained the same as well. Remember that conference championship I mentioned way back in paragraph one? That was Arkansas State’s first and only Sun Belt title. South Alabama has won five since then. Lamar has twice as many Sun Belt baseball titles as Arkansas State.

Several years ago, I took a couple of Little Rock sports writers to Jonesboro for a football game. One of the writers took an appraising look at Tomlinson Stadium and remarked, “It’s so tiny!” He couldn’t stop repeating that. It was aggravating. He was a creature of the SEC, so nothing short of a billion dollar super-venue was going to impress him, but still, it was off-putting. “Are you sure that’s not the softball stadium?”

LOL, we don’t have softball, but that’s a gripe for another time. Meanwhile, we do have a baseball program, and it certainly has its stalwart fans. And why not? Baseball is a Natural State sport, played nearly year-round by boys as young as four. If you find yourself in an Arkansas town without a baseball diamond, I regret to inform you that you’re likely not in Arkansas. You’re probably in Russia somewhere.

The team doesn’t have to play well to provide a nice fan experience.

So why can’t Arkansas State field a great baseball team? Its nearest competitor, the University of Memphis, is just as (if not more) woeful than A-State. We can own the Delta, if we want to. It’s true that the A-State Athletic Department has focused on football now for nearly 15 years, and in that time we’ve seen conference programs polish their diamonds to a power-level sparkle – venues at Coastal Carolina and Louisiana are the SBC benchmarks. Might the Red Wolves attempt the same standard?

The Athletic Department is working on it. At the recent Grand Slam Banquet, the program announced proposed alterations to Tomlinson Stadium, which included a handsome set of artist’s renderings.

A beer garden would be nice. After all, baseball is a long, warm-weather sport – one for which fan endurance can only be fortified by a couple of cold suds. Perhaps a few $10 beers can help finance the indoor facility and heck, maybe a fancy new scoreboard, too. Can we afford it? Will deeper pockets in Northeast Arkansas loosen their purse strings and save us from the hardball purgatory? Sell the naming rights to the bull pen to U.S. Steel and call it The Crucible. Have those $10 beers delivered via a Hytrol conveyor belt. Get creative. Find a sponsor for the dirt. Get somebody to get their ass off the pine and pinch hit for this plucky program.

If it entices fans, then maybe it will entice talent as well. The Red Wolves – who opened the season ingloriously swept by Samford – could use hotter bats and stronger arms.

Maybe even I will buy a ticket.

Renderings provided by Arkansas State Athletics