HUNTINGTON — Want to see Jeff Waggoner’s “Field of Dreams”?
It’s not hard to find. It doesn’t require a farm or even a corn field. Just look toward the future.
That’s certainly what Marshall University’s baseball coach is doing.
As Waggs stood in Appalachian Power Park on Sunday watching the state high school baseball tournament’s Class AAA championship game in Charleston, he had one eye on the contest and the other on the horizon.
“Getting the in-state kids is very valuable for our program,” said Waggoner, “just because it’s going to be important for those kids to represent our state. I think that we need to get the better kids in our state.
“We’re going to be in one of the best conferences in the country, we’ve got a beautiful stadium coming and I think that’s how you build a program the right way — by high school kids.”
Marshall already has verbal commitments from a pair of Hurricane High School standouts — junior outfielder Austin Dearing and junior infielder Tyler Cox.
That’s going to be a trend for Marshall.
“You do get hit by the [Major League Baseball annual draft] and sometimes you’ve got to get junior college kids,” pointed out Waggs. “But in order to get a foundation you have to really build with high school kids. And it starts with the state of West Virginia.”
A new near-campus ballpark in Huntington should open up the entire state for Marshall’s baseball program from Hedgesville to Hurricane to Huntington.
“I think in the past it has always been the field,” said Waggs. “It’s not a surprise to the kids in-state about the situation with our baseball field.
“And I think now there is every opportunity for them to stay at home and play in a southern conference and get to travel to places like Houston, Texas, and San Antonio, Texas, to Boca Raton, Florida, to Miami, Florida and to the East Coast with Charlotte and Old Dominion.
“It’s a great conference for kids to stay at home and play in a southern conference. I think that’s a dream of any kid — to play in a southern conference.”
Obviously, a new ballpark for Marshall is the linchpin.
“There’s no question,” said Waggoner. “And I think it will help the economy in Huntington. I think we are kind of missing how good our baseball is in our conference in Huntington.
“And I think that when we bring in teams that are going to be ranked and have national names and you play a 7 o’clock game on a Friday and Saturday night in Huntington, springtime is going to be amazing for our city.”
The rising excitement in Waggs’ voice was unmistakable.
“I think that’s what we’re all excited about,” he said. “Changing the culture and giving a little more atmosphere in the spring for everyone. I’m just excited about being a part of it. I look forward to getting kids to walk through that stadium. Right now, it’s like, ‘Hey, we’re building a stadium,’ but I can’t show them anything. So, we’re still battling that.”
But in the not-so-distant future, Waggoner should be able to show off a brand-new 3,500-seat ballpark.
“The day that I can start walking kids in there is going to be fun,” said Waggs. “I can’t wait for that day.”
Neither can the prospects in West Virginia.