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‘The Big House,’ the signature baseball field at Choccolocco Park, named national high school field of the year

Oxford baseball coach Wes Brooks has a little fun with his players before sending them into infield/outfield drills for the first time at Choccolocco Park.

Oxford baseball coach Wes Brooks has a little fun with his players before sending them into infield/outfield drills for the first time at Choccolocco Park.

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

The signature baseball field at Oxford’s Choccolocco Park has been named National High School Field of the Year by the National High School Baseball Coaches Association.

The field, the centerpiece of a $34 million recreation complex operated by the City of Oxford, is the home venue of the Oxford High School baseball team.

Yellow Jackets baseball coach Wes Brooks represented the school and the community at the national awards banquet in Columbus, Ohio, Friday night. He did not address the crowd after the award was announced, but took the opportunity afterwards to praise the leadership and vision of city officials for making the facility a reality.

“I’m just the head coach at Oxford, but I definitely am very humbled to be up here to receive the award because there are so many others who deserve to be up here,” Brooks said. “This is not for us. It’s for every one of those 55 (Oxford) teams that have come through since 1961.

“None of the coaches knew yet if they had won. They announced it really slow, almost like a Miss America thing. Your adrenaline was flowing a little, no knowing if your name was going to get called or you were going to stand up and clap for the guy who won it … Obviously for us to be here was just an honor to be one of eight schools in the country.”

“The Big House,” as the baseball facility is called, was among eight regional finalists for the award and it was believed to be a tight vote all the way to the end. The selection committee was expected to name the winner earlier in the day but put off the decision until later in the evening, just prior to the awards banquet.

The other finalists were from Boston; Philadelphia; Marysville, Ohio; Forest Lake, Minn.; College Station, Texas; Athem, Ariz.; and Villa Park, Calif. Some fields had artificial turf and others, like Choccolocco Park, had natural grass.

It was believed to be a close vote between Choccolocco Park and an artificial turf field in Boston that is a replica of Fenway Park. The Philadelphia field was not eligible for the national award because multiple teams played there.

“It was a tough choice with some great fields,” said Todd FitzGerald, the coach at No. 1 ranked Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., the Southeast Regional representative on the committee.

Brooks believed it was all the ancillary features of the facility that put it over the top.

“It just draws more attention to us and a feather in our cap because we have been recognized as being the best,” Oxford PARD director Don Hudson said. “That’s our whole goal, to make people aware of the facility we have and how nice it is. This is just another means for us publicizing it and people recognizing it.”

Coaches from as far away as Arizona, New York and Kansas City approached Brooks at the banquet expressing an interest in bringing their teams to Choccolocco Park for games this coming spring. At least one is expected to play in the Jackets’ spring tournament.

The Yellow Jackets have a quality on-campus field in Bud McCarty Field, but somewhere around 2013 Oxford officials expressed an interest in the team playing its home games on the signature field and it moved into the facility this past spring.

It has proven to be a strong home-field advantage. The Yellow Jackets won their first 13 games there, some in dramatic fashion, and were 18-2 in the facility during the season.

“We consider it a privilege to play there,” Oxford athletics director Larry Davidson said. “We did not do the work on it. The award is a tribute to (grounds supervisor) Chad Robinson and the City; they’ve done the work on it. We’re just the beneficary of what our city has done.

“We have a tremendous facility on our campus, but you’re talking about a field that’s as good as a lot of minor-league parks. We’re just so proud for them. That’s one of the finest complexes in the Southeast and we’re the beneficiary of our city to be able to play on it.”

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