Since its opneing in 2002, Hawks Field at Haymarket Park has been one of college baseball’s best ballparks. Set on 32 acres one-half mile west of campus near downtown, the complex combines private and public entities, giving the University of Nebraska and the City of Lincoln a one-of-a-kind facility for the Huskers and the Lincoln Saltdogs of the American Association of Independent League Professional Baseball.
On July 30, 1999, the University of Nebraska, the City of Lincoln and NEBCO Inc., announced plans to construct two new stadiums, an 8,500-seat ballpark for the Husker baseball program and the Saltdogs – marking professional baseball’s return to the Star City for the first time in 40 years – and a 2,500-seat softball stadium located next door.
Building a complex for the Huskers, as well as the Saltdogs, whose season runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day, required leadership and a forward-thinking vision from all three entities. The $29.53 million cost was primarily divided between the city, NEBCO and the University with additional sources contributing for the rest of the project.
In March of 2000, Howard and Myrna Hawks guaranteed UNL’s commitment to the baseball/softball project, enabling the University to move forward on the complex on schedule. An avid supporter of the Husker baseball program, Myrna Hawks never had the opportunity to see the finished product, as she passed away on Jan. 24, 2001. In her honor, the playing surface was named Hawks Field in February of 2002 and was formally dedicated on April 28, 2002, before a doubleheader against Kansas.
"She was a baseball fanatic," Howard Hawks said of his wife of 45 years. "She went to baseball games before we were married, but I know that after we were married, she never went to a game where she didn’t keep score.
"She felt you didn’t really know what had happened if you didn’t know how this guy hit last time, and how they pitched to him, so she kept track of all those things."
The DLR Group was hired to be the principal designer of the ballparks, as well as the plaza between the two fields, and to create a design unique for Lincoln. Early on, one of the goals of the project was to enhance the experience for the fans who attend games at the new park. According to the DLR Group, the intimate atmosphere at Haymarket Park was intentional.
"One of the primary concepts driving this whole facility was to create a ‘park within a park,’ which meant the fans would be able to view the action from anywhere in the park," says Pat Phelan, principal project manager at the DLR Group in Omaha.
"There’s an open concourse, so when fans are waiting in line for concessions or restrooms, they can still see the field from there. There’s also a bermed seating area around the outside of the park, so you can literally walk around the perimeter of the diamond while viewing the action, but you’re still within the confines of the stadium."
In the months leading up to the start of construction in April of 2000, former Nebraska Baseball Coach Dave Van Horn and Saltdogs President Charlie Meyer toured many of the top minor league facilities in the country, looking for ideas that could be implemented in the new ballpark.
The influences of parks such as the Bricktown Ballpark in Oklahoma City, Victory Field in Indianapolis and Franklin Covey Field in Salt Lake City, are evident throughout the structure. The exterior is a red-brick facade, while the spacious concourse level is highlighted by exposed ironwork. The playing surface is nestled in a bowl, allowing berm seating along both lines and throughout the outfield and a raised batter’s eye consisting of pine trees in center field. The features make Haymarket Park a first-class facility. The ballpark’s setting also allowed the designers to use Memorial Stadium and downtown Lincoln to provide a picturesque backdrop in the outfield. There is also a pedestrian connector that allows fans to make the walk from downtown Lincoln to the center field entrance of Haymarket Park.
The park features many fan-friendly amenities, including 4,419 chair-back seats on two levels in the main seating bowl, 16 suites, a towering video board/scoreboard in right center field, the Buck Beltzer Playground for kids down the right field line and numerous restrooms and concession stands. In 2009, the facility added seating in right field, as the Husker Home Run Terrace bringing more fans closer to the action.
Hawks Field at Haymarket Park was selected as the best playing surface in each of its nine years of existence. In November of 2007, Hawks Field received another honor, as it won the Baseball Field of the Year Award in the College/University division by the Sports Turf Managers Association (STMA) for the second time. The field earned its first honor in 2003 and is the only college park in the country to be a two-time winner.
In the fall of 2008, the field was completely resurfaced while the underground drainage system was improved, making the field more playable during the early spring months.
The ballpark is more than a playing field for the Huskers. It includes medical and laundry facilities, coaches’ offices and a 1,400 square foot locker room and adjacent clubhouse, giving the Husker program one of the best baseball setups in the country. The clubhouse was completely renovated in January of 2010, with a new entryway, remodeled player lockers, new locker chairs, electronic reclining theater seating, a team dining area, two 25-inch touch-screen monitors, a new video messaging system and a gaming area.
The Huskers have enjoyed their new home, posting a 229-77-1 record at Hawks Field over the past 10 years, including a school-record 33-4 mark in 2005 and a 29-5-1 mark in 2008.
Fans have also turned out in record numbers, as Nebraska has ranked among the nation’s top 20 schools in average attendance in nine of the past 10 years. In 2006, Nebraska set a single-season attendance record by averaging 5,092 fans per game. NU also established a single-game record with a crowd of 8,757 against Texas A&M on April 14, 2006.