MARION — In his frequent spring-time travels through the Ohio Valley Conference, 22-year Belmont baseball coach Dave Jarvis would ride past Rent One Park and marvel at what a nice facility it is.
This week, Jarvis and his Bruins, as well as the rest of the OVC, have the place to themselves.
The conference is holding its baseball tournament at the Miners’ home for the first time. While the place might not have been packed Wednesday morning when Belmont spanked Murray State 8-1, it was still another indication of what makes the 13-year old ballpark such an appealing option.
“It’s a gorgeous facility,” Jarvis said. “It’s not so large that it feels cavernous to an OVC crowd, and also the fact that it’s a turf facility eliminates so many variables.”
The biggest variable of all would have caused a delay for sure on any other field. Tuesday night’s drenching thunderstorms flooded yards and left many fields unplayable. Two high school baseball tournaments had to postpone their games, and a third moved from Goreville to the turf at SIU’s Itchy Jones Stadium.
There were no such worries for the OVC, not at Rent One. Belmont’s wakeup call was an ungodly 5:15 a.m. The bus left its hotel right below the ballpark at 6:15.
Batting practice went on as scheduled. The game went off without a hitch. In a sport that revels in pregame routines, playing your most important games on a field like Rent One is a little bit like finding gold for a prospector.
“We would have been in a rain delay, we wouldn’t have had any pregame practice and it would have had a lot of negative effects,” Jarvis said. “Just the fact that it’s a turf facility gives us tremendous flexibility. It just simplifies everything.”
Simplicity was something the conference didn’t have at its last site in Oxford, Ala. While the facility was a good one and coaches liked the way they were treated, it wasn’t exactly in the conference’s geographic footprint.
Last year, when Eastern Illinois qualified for the OVC tourney, it had to meet Murray State in the play-in game. The Panthers traveled about 8 ½ hours to lose 15-5, then turned around and rode home in their bus. This year, EIU only had to schlep just over two hours down I-57 to play in the play-in game and lost 2-1 to UT Martin.
In addition to a top-notch facility and a field which permits for play in nearly all conditions, the OVC also is playing its most important games in a park which doesn’t skew towards hitters or pitchers. You can hit a homer at Rent One if you hit it hard down either line, as Hunter Holland did Wednesday in the fourth inning to get the Bruins going offensively.
But pitchers can also make batters hit fly balls from the 392-foot mark in left-center to the 375-mark in right-center without much worry of a cheapie blowing over the fence. Simply put, for this level of baseball, it’s as fair a test of the game as you’ll get.
“It played nice,” Murray State coach Dan Skirka said. “You don’t have to worry about a tarp, you don’t have to worry about nothing. Last night’s rain didn’t matter. It’s a great size for the OVC and everything’s first class.”
The OVC will be back here next spring as well, and if things go the way the Miners envision, they hope the OVC will return when its two-year contract expires. This is a busy time of year for sports in southern Illinois, but there’s no reason the conference can’t carve out a niche.
“It’s right in our footprint,” Jarvis said.
A footprint that doesn’t need to get washed out any time soon.