Under-renovation UL baseball stadium is ready for play

2 March 2017

As a kid raised about two blocks away, Hogan Harris would often pass by M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field and appreciate it for the cozy college baseball stadium it was.

The one with pine trees towering behind the outfield wall, roof people watching from atop a house beyond left-center, cardboard "K" signs attached to the front of the press box every time an opposing batter struck out, Vic Kilchrist hawking his roasted peanuts, the Cajun Cooking Club barbecuing out in right, and fans finishing “Centerfield” as John Fogerty’s voice fades from the speakers during the seventh-inning stretch.

Some of that tradition and charm will remain.For the last several months, however, Harris has watched the baby ballpark morph into adulthood thanks to a nearly $16 million renovation tackled by the Lemoine Company.And he, like many of his University of Louisiana at Lafayette teammates, is blown away by the transformation.

“Sometimes it gets kind of distracting, just because of all the noises and everything,” Harris said of an offseason spent practicing in a construction zone. “But overall, it’s just kind of amazing to watch.”

On Friday night the Ragin’ Cajuns will play, for the first time since heavy equipment rolled in to rip its old grandstand down, their first game at the venue now known as Russo Park at M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field.

The teardown started back in July, after a few months’ delay prompted by the need to secure bridge funding because the cost of enhanced features soared beyond an originally planned $10 million.

Construction cost, UL director of facility management Bill Crist said via an email, “is around $12 million,” and total project cost, including construction, consulting frees, suites furniture and concessions equipment, “is just below $16 million.”

When the Cajuns play host to Southern Mississippi for a three-game series this weekend, The Tigue — opened in 1978, and now almost 40 years old — won’t be completely renovated.

Seats are in the new grandstand, and fans will have access to restrooms and concessions, but UL interim athletic director Jessica Leger said a new stadium club, new suites and a new upper concourse “will not be accessible” until the stadium is completed.“We anticipate that this date will … be in mid-May,” Leger said.Temporary bleachers offering an additional 200 seats will be in place this weekend, Leger added.

So even though work remains, and after considering other options — including a community facility in Youngsville, a minor-league park in Metairie and stadiums at other schools throughout Louisiana — the Cajuns decided they’d much rather be at home as soon as possible.

They opened their 2017 season with seven straight road games.But now enough has been done that slightly inconvenienced spectators can watch the Cajuns — ranked No. 16 nationally — play the Golden Eagles at The Tigue.

“When this is finished,” said UL pitcher Gunner Leger, who is scheduled to start on the mound Friday night, “it’s gonna be the best place in college baseball to be, hands down.”From deconstruction to reconstruction, Cajun players have witnessed the growth from first-row seats.

While walking off the field at The Tigue following back-to-back NCAA Lafayette Regional losses to Arizona last May 6, they were pretty sure concrete would soon come tumbling down.But some had no idea how quickly the pieces would be put back together.

“We come out here every day, so we get to see. They’ve been throwing this thing up so fast,” Gunner Leger said. “Every day we walk out here, it’s something different. It’s like, ‘They finished that, they finished this.’”

“Some days it seems like it’s going by real slow,” Harris added, “but then all of a sudden you come back next week and you’re like, ‘Wow, that actually was a lot of progress.’ It is going up very quickly, for the size of a venue it’s going to be.”

Seating capacity at The Tigue prior to this season had been listed at 3,775.When completed, the venue will seat about 4,500, UL director of ticket operations and ex-Cajuns baseball player Matt Casbon said.

That includes about 800 more grandstand seats than before the renovation, according to Leger“It’s just incredible how much has happened,” said Cajuns pitcher Wyatt Marks, who, like Harris, is a St. Thomas More High product.

“I remember coming in in the fall when they started putting up beams and laying down cement, laying down platforms,” UL third baseman Joe Robbins added. “It came up extremely fast. But as soon as it did, it’s beautiful.”

For Harris, the fact renovation really was happening — and appreciation for just how big the project is — hit hardest when a roof was installed atop the grandstand.

According to the Lemoine Company’s website, the renovation work — in addition to the grandstand — includes new concessions areas; a club room, suites and a new press box; and two concession decks behind the existing baseline stands.

“Once that (roof) hangs over, you’re like, ‘Wow, that’s up there,’ ” Harris said, “Because you see people on the roof and they’re, like, tiny. It’s crazy.”While construction workers toiled above and around the new seating area, Cajun players practiced on the field itself with virtually no interruption.

UL coach Tony Robichaux, in fact, recalls only two times his team had to leave the facility because of what was happening around it, and he thanked the Lemoine Company for “working with us so well.”“That’s enormous,” Robichaux said, “compared to the work they’re doing out there, and the scope of the work, and the heavy machinery they’re using.”

The construction site, make no mistake, has been loud. By extension, UL’s practices have been, too.It can make for some ringing in the ears. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.“Coach always says he wishes he could fill the stadium (for practices) to (simulate) game noise,” Gunner Leger said. “Well, he got his noise.”

Has he ever.Concrete and steel, after all, doesn’t come apart quietly.Tigue Moore comes crumbling down“When they had the cranes and everything in here, it was loud,” Marks said. “But it’s just impressive.”“They’ll be cutting,” Leger added, “and you’ve got to yell in order to hear.”When someone still can’t hear, his teammate just yells louder.

“The distractions are great for us, because … there’s gonna be a lot of people, a lot of noise (during games),” said UL second baseman Brenn Conrad, a Lafayette High product.

Getting used to it during the offseason, Conrad suggested, may pay dividends for times like when UL plays a three-game series later this season at defending national-champion Coastal Carolina and when it faces No. 2 LSU on April 11 in Metairie.“It’s all about blocking that kind of stuff out,” Conrad said. “And we’ve been doing a great job of blocking it out.”

“You get used to it, honestly,” Marks added. “Some days are louder than others, depending on what kind of heavy equipment they have here. But it really (isn’t) that bad.”On the rare occasions the Cajuns have had to move off the field before resuming practice, Robichaux has had his team treat it like a rain delay.

He welcomes the opportunity to prepare for the unexpected, and undeniably embraces the noise.“We try to turn it into a positive instead of a negative,” Robichaux said.Unlike other Cajun teams that pipe loud music into their practices, UL baseball lately has enjoyed a symphony of construction’s greatest hits.

“We’ve got cranes and the beeping of all kind of stuff,” Robichaux said. “The grinding, the welding, sparks flying all over the place. We’ve got a lot of stuff that can distract.

“But I like it, because we’ve had to learn how to tune it out — and I think all good athletes can do that.”The Cajuns, it seems, really do consider the price of progress a good value.

“Just seeing what it is now, from when I was growing up — it’s kind of incredible,” pitcher Harris said. “Definitely worth a little bit of distraction.”In 38 years, the Tigue saw some talented, spirited playersGoodbye old friend: Former players reflect on end of Tigue Moore FieldMemorable brawls part of Tigue Moore Field history


A look at the growth of Russo Park at M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field, the UL baseball team’s home stadium:
1978: Park opens
2010: ProGrass Synthetic Turf System installed
2013: 71-foot state-of-the-art scoreboard added
2016-17: Light poles installed, new grandstand built, new pressbox, new restrooms and concession areas, stadium club and suites under construction