Fans of East Tennessee State University baseball were able to begin this season watching comfortably from the seating area.
Opening day for ETSU’s 2013 baseball season was Friday at Thomas Stadium, the new facility built to enhance the sport and the community at the school.
Gerald Thomas, owner of Thomas Construction Co. Inc. based in Johnson City, and his wife Sandy, are the facility’s namesakes.
“If this institution (ETSU) grows, Johnson City, Washington County and the Tri-Cities grow,” Gerald Thomas said shortly after a dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday morning.
The ETSU baseball team opened their season against Penn State Friday afternoon.
This was the second season baseball has been played in the new park. Last year seating was not complete so fans had to sit far away from the action. The stadium is at the corner of University Parkway and West State of Franklin Road, adjacent to the main ETSU campus.
Thomas Construction is an infrastructure contractor. Roads, bridges, water, sewer and site preparation are the company’s niche.
Construction on the stadium began in spring 2010 with site preparation. A large amount of rock was discovered that had to be removed.
Thomas said his crews found the site was about 70 percent covered in rock, which is something that happens in East Tennessee.
“I think the entire site here was probably around 40,000 cubic yards,” he said. “Probably 25,000 to 30,000 yards of it was rock.”
This first phase of the stadium cost about $4.2 million. General Shale Brick provided an in-kind gift of all the brick needed for the stadium. Additionally, Thomas Construction’s preparation of the site was done for free and was worth about $500,000.
Other additions planned for the stadium include a field house, offices, locker rooms and other amenities, possibly including retail space.
Thomas’ name is not on other structures around the region. He said the naming honor meant a lot.
“I think anything we can do to further East Tennessee State as ... a university that parallels athletes with academic excellence is important to me,” Thomas said.
Brian Noland, ETSU president, said he was excited about the opportunity to bring people to the campus to experience the game and the facility.
“This is a game changer for our institution because it brings us, with respect to baseball, to a level of competitiveness in a facility that we’ve not had,” Noland said. “We’re hopeful that this facility can serve as a linchpin for economic development. We hope that this facility is a facility that can be used not only by our team but by others across the region.”