Last season, the UNM baseball team seemed set to make its first run to the College World Series.
After a second consecutive Mountain West regular season title and an overall record of 37-22, the Lobos were in contention to host an NCAA Regional.
But school officials didn’t bother to send a request to host because UNM had no place to hold it. Lobo Field wasn’t up to the NCAA standards, even after a $3 million renovation. Isotopes Park was also out of the question, as the Isotopes had a four-game home stand the same week.
The $3.5 million renovation included new bleachers, a press area, turf field, dugouts and lights that were put up last fall. Lobo Field has been a product of state, university and private funding, much of the latter being raised by Birmingham himself.
“It’s a lot nicer than it used to be, but it’s not even close to what the other teams have,” Birmingham said. “It’s time for that help to make it a first-class facility.”
UNM intends to add concession areas, a new press area, more bleachers and a permanent locker room, according to an athletic department press release. The Lobos spent a majority of the past nine and a half seasons at Isotopes Park before moving permanently back to Lobo Field last year.
The school also plans to insert new bathrooms and a clubhouse this summer. The bathrooms are projected to cost $270,000 and the clubhouse will be $500,000.
“We’re still in the beginning phases,” said associate athletic director of marketing/revenue Brad Hutchins. “There’s still a lot of work to do … It’s coming along nicely. We obviously need to get more of it done.”
This year the Lobos traveled to Fullerton, Calif., for the NCAAs and were eliminated in just two games. UNM was ousted by Columbia 6-5 in 13 innings.
UNM sports information director Terry Kelly said the Lobo offense, which is usually one of the best in the nation, isn’t as potent on the road as it is at home.
“As you’ve seen the past few years, the type of teams we typically have here, the offense doesn’t play at the coastal air of Fullerton (Calif.),” Kelly said. “If you look at the last four years, the teams that host the regional win the regional.”
Since Lobo head coach Ray Birmingham took the helm in 2008, 67 of 96 regional hosts — or 70 percent — have won their regionals. In that same time span, 86 of 96 — 90 percent — of regional hosts have played in their regional finals.
Lobo Field isn’t just used for the UNM baseball team, as the New Mexico Athletic Association (NMAA) hosts state playoff games on it, several baseball camps are hosted there, and last year several Texas state high school playoff contests were also played there.
Before having an opportunity to host an NCAA regional, Lobo Field will hold the 2016 Mountain West conference tournament, according to the MW website.
UNM and Birmingham might be fewer than two years away from hosting not only the MW tournament, but holding their first NCAA regional as well.