'The New Dude' packs in fans during its first year

June 11, 2019 11:13:55 AM

Ben Portnoy - [email protected]

 

STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State junior Dustin Skelton and Stanford's Christian Robinson traded words during one of the Bulldogs' two NCAA baseball super regional wins over Stanford over the weekend. 

 

Robinson opened the dialogue, voicing that roughly 3,000 fans took in the Cardinal's home regional. 

 

"Yeah well, you're in front of 13,000 now," Skelton recalled responding. "How does it feel?" 

 

"Man it's unlike anywhere else," Robinson said. 

 

Two years and an estimated $68 million later, the New Dudy Noble hosted its first ever Super Regional over the weekend as MSU punched its second ticket to the College World Series in as many years with a two-game sweep of Stanford. 

 

The more than 24,000 fans who gathered at the friendly confines Saturday and Sunday validated what many folks had dreamed of with the fresh-faced stadium. 

 

Just looking at the numbers, the new ballpark is already living up to its investment. This year's average attendance was 8,899 per home game, according to figures provided by the university's Athletic Department. That's up from 8,028 in 2017 and 8,189 in 2016, the last two years before the "New Dude" began its face-lift. 

 

Last year, while renovations to the stadium were still underway, average attendance was 6,049 per home contest. 

 

Saturday, the 13,132 fans in attendance set the third-highest mark in NCAA tournament super regional history, The top two slots? They also belong to MSU -- 13,715 on June 9, 2007 against Clemson and 13,452 June 11, 2016 versus Arizona. 

 

Roughly 11,600 fans attended Sunday's game, an 8-1 victory that clinched the Bulldogs' a spot in Omaha. 

 

"There are a lot of good baseball programs in the country," MSU Athletic Director John Cohen told The Dispatch. "There are really good teams. There are really good coaches. But our fans are different. They're the ones who make this program what it is and we wanted to build something that honored the fans." 

 

There's also the economic aspect to the renovations.  

 

Starkville Mayor Lynn Spruill conceded there are few, if any, numbers that can perfectly encapsulate the larger impact of the stadium on the city.  

 

That said, Spruill noted SEC weekend series and playoff games have helped fill the restaurants and hotels in town. 

 

She also cited an uptick in second home purchases and retirees wanting to settle down within the city limits as recent trends in town. 

 

"We are certainly becoming a place where people want to be," Spruill said. "And that is certainly what we want to be." 

 

On the field, the MSU players and coaches have often voiced their positive positions on their new digs.  

 

Coach Chris Lemonis quipped Sunday Dudy Noble was so loud he could barely hear his assistants in the dugout. 

 

Senior outfielder Jake Mangum recalled wearing construction hats in order to move on and off the playing surface during the construction phases. He also gave a nod to the expansive crowds that have graced the bleachers in his final season as a genuine motivator in the heat of competition. 

 

"In college baseball, you do not have stadiums like this," he said after a June 2 win over Miami. "When you get opposing teams to come in here, it almost shell shocks you. I am still not used to it." 

 

Lemonis echoed those sentiments following Sunday's victory. 

 

"I keep thinking we've had our best night in our ballpark," he said. "It just keeps getting louder and louder. Our fans are unbelievable."  

 

Nearing 4 a.m. Monday morning, long after the fans who watched the Bulldogs book a trip to the College World Series, the lone glow above Dudy Noble was the "M" over "S" logo that sits atop the center field scoreboard. 

 

The place sometimes dubbed the "Carnegie Hall of college baseball" had entered hibernation for the next nine months, but the luminescent glow was a striking reminder of its presence in the wee hours of the day -- one that continues to impact the team, the university and the city. 

 

"We're very excited that we have such a great relationship and that they are building on their legacy," Spruill said of MSU. "And we're hopefully helping them continue to do that and build on our own."

Ben Portnoy reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @bportnoy15.