The countdown to opening day: construction crew, OSU community prepare for first series at O'Brate Stadium

O'Brate stadium

O'Brate Stadium, the new home of Oklahoma State baseball, will open March 20 with the Cowboys' series against TCU.

Dalton Deckert’s new workplace has a strict dress code, but it won't last forever.

Any groundskeeper who doesn't wear the attire to fit construction site safety protocol isn't permitted to work on the field. Deckert sports a neon vest, clear protective glasses and a clunky hard hat whenever he visits O’Brate Stadium, Oklahoma State's new home for baseball. In the sticky late summer, Deckert and his co-workers suited up in long pants and steel-toed boots as they tested the irrigation system and tended to the newly laid sand and sod.

“You’re sweating pretty much instantly,” Deckert said. “And it’s not fun, but you just kind of get used to it.”

Deckert, associate athletic field superintendent at OSU, can soon set aside the hard hat and safety glasses because the ballpark at Washington Street and McElroy Road will no longer be a construction zone. O’Brate Stadium, named for its primary benefactor Cecil O’Brate, will open when OSU faces TCU on March 20.

As the grounds crew grooms the field for its debut, it also must maintain upkeep of Allie P. Reynolds Stadium, where the Cowboys have played since 1981. Because of delays at O’Brate Stadium, OSU will play every home nonconference game this season at Allie P., starting Friday with a series against University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

People in and around the baseball program, groundskeepers, coaches, players and OSU Athletics employees, are teetering between the past and the future as the season approaches. They are preparing to close the history-rich, aging Allie P. Reynolds Stadium when the Cowboys take on Fresno State on March 15 and, five days later, usher in the era of O’Brate Stadium. Kevin Klintworth, senior associate athletic director, said the new ballpark costs $70 million in design and construction.

Klintworth said weather-induced construction delays and intentions to open the stadium in spring instead of winter led to the athletic department’s decision to wait until Big 12 play. The athletic department announced the opening date in a press release Oct. 10 and relayed the information to Manhattan Construction Co. so workers could adjust their schedules.

“There are folks in the athletic department who have meetings every Monday with construction folks,” Klintworth said. “And so they obviously had their pulse on the pace of the construction throughout the project. We could have rushed it and opened on (Feb. 21), but it wouldn’t have had everything in place, I don’t think.

"It wouldn’t certainly be as festive if you’re wearing earmuffs and gloves and scarves (when teams are) trying to play a baseball game.”

OSU baseball coach Josh Holliday, athletic director Mike Holder and architect Jim Hasenbeck announced plans for a then-unnamed stadium during a press conference March 29, 2018. Construction had started at that point, though there was no groundbreaking ceremony.

The next year, inclement weather disrupted the builders’ schedule.

In 2019, Stillwater was inundated with 56.21 inches of rain, including a year-high 17.30 inches in May, according to the Oklahoma Mesonet’s online database. The database shows it as the heaviest rainfall Stillwater received in 12 years.

Senior project manager Chad Kendrick and assistant project manager Jay Cheves said the deluge created obstacles during a critical phase of construction.

“It was a challenge for basically every project in the state,” Cheves said. “Everyone had to deal with the uncharacteristic wet season, the vast amount of rains. It was tough for us because we were at a stage right then where we were trying to come out of the ground.”

O’Brate Stadium has no roof, so the construction site was vulnerable. Water pooled in the ditches, and mud caked the ground.

To try to compensate for lost time, the crew switched its focus to jobs it could do in the rain. Cheves said some plumbing, electrical work and exterior sheathing were completed more quickly than expected, but tasks such as building concrete structures were futile during the constant downpours. Kendrick said workers had to wait to pour concrete because that would only add to the sludge if it rained again.

“The more you try, the more you mix it up, the more mud you make,” Kendrick said. “It’s just a bad situation. But this team as a whole with Manhattan and the athletic department and our subcontractors, we really came together and we made a lot of that up the best we could.”

In February, O’Brate Stadium is simultaneously a work in progress and a clear picture of OSU baseball’s future. The neatly manicured field and the pristine orange bleachers make the venue appear nearly complete. Still, workers are present adding the final fixtures, and some areas are off limits marked by orange tape, making it clear some features are left to add.

Cheves said the crew is finishing caulking around the glass batter's eye, an expansive window behind center field that allows fans to watch games through it while players on the field see it as an opaque black wall. Workers are paving sidewalks with concrete and brick, adding final details to the suites and press box and making sure safety systems, including the fire alarm, work properly.

The hum of moving construction vehicles drones throughout the stadium, and people in neon yellow and orange vests dot the construction zone, even on weekends. Although the number can vary, Cheves said about 100-125 workers are at the ballpark on a daily basis.

He said each morning, the site opens at 7, and workers typically finish from 3:30-5:30 p.m., depending on their jobs. As O’Brate Stadium nears completion, Manhattan Construction sometimes keeps the site open later to ensure the goals of the day are accomplished. Cheves said he has stayed until 8 p.m.

“We want to get it right,” Cheves said. “And we want to deliver a quality product that’s going to last for however long it needs to, and then it’s going to help keep this team competitive.”

Cheves and Kendrick said the construction will be complete by the stadium’s opening day, but Manhattan isn’t in charge of every feature. Klintworth said the athletic department is responsible for bringing in the video board, furniture, landscaping and fiber runs. Crew members at Orange Power Studios will have to adapt to running the video board because there isn’t one at Allie P. Reynolds Stadium.

“There’s all kinds of things that you wouldn’t (normally) think about that come into play when you have basically two home facilities,” Klintworth said.

Deckert and the grounds crew must budget time for maintaining the two baseball fields along with OSU’s other athletic fields. Deckert said he usually checks on O’Brate Stadium in the afternoons when the Cowboys are practicing at Allie P.

“Pretty much, it’s just mowing when it needs to be mowed, watering it when it needs to be watered,” Deckert said. “Throwing fertilizer, spraying chemicals, that type of stuff.”

Because no one has slid into home plate or sprinted through the outfield to make a diving catch at O’Brate Stadium, the mostly untouched grass hasn’t required the day-to-day maintenance the surface at Allie P. needs, but a field at a construction site has unique issues.

In late January, workers had to remove concrete that settled, and the fragments cluttered the field at O’Brate Stadium. The grounds crew was in charge of using backpack blowers to draw those concrete pieces out of the grass and then sweeping the chips out of the stadium with power brooms.

Deckert doesn’t mind a little extra work because he can watch the future build around him each time he goes to O’Brate Stadium. The promise of this venue influenced him to leave the Triple-A stadium where he worked in Ohio and head to Stillwater in 2018, though he had no tie to OSU.

“A facility like that at a college level is pretty unheard of, and I wanted to be a part of that,” Deckert said. “So it’s awesome just to be over there and actually see it go from ground zero to where it’s at now.”

Holliday recognizes his players can’t get too distracted as they prepare to start their season at Allie P., but the hype about their new home constantly surrounds them. When nonconference play wraps up at their old venue, the Cowboys will haul belongings, training equipment and office decorations to O’Brate. Coaches’ family members will likely pitch in with the moving process, Holliday said.

“Luckily, we’ve got an awesome staff around to help us,” Holliday said. “But I’m pretty sure that when coach Holder says, ‘Hey, here’s the key or here’s the code, feel free to move in,’ I may not sleep for two or three straight days just in the excitement of what that’s going to feel like.”

Baseball fans share his enthusiasm. Kendrick and Cheves said they have had to deter curious passersby from wandering inside the fence to get a closer look at the construction site. They will soon be able to stroll into the stadium and enjoy its opening day, but until then, it’s time for “extra innings” at Allie P., as Klintworth said the athletic department is calling it.

Klintworth said fans will be able to get into games at Allie P. for free, and season ticket holders will have “Extra Innings in Allie P.” cards that ensure they can stay in their usual seats. Through Sunday, people who put down $75 deposits before Jan. 31 can choose their seats at O’Brate Stadium.

Celebration plans for O’Brate Stadium’s inaugural game are in the works and haven’t been disclosed, but Klintworth said these festivities will fit better with the start of Big 12 play in the spring than if the venue were opening in winter.

Despite the rainy days and delays, for Cheves, the constant work is worth it when he sees people’s faces light up as they tour O’Brate Stadium. It’s Holliday’s dream, and Cheves and his crew are creating it.

“You have those challenging days or those times when you’re trying to get this part finished,” Cheves said. “Or, ‘Man, it’s raining,’ or whatever. And coach Holliday will come through, or coach Holder will come through with somebody, and they’re just amazed.

"It kind of gives you some perspective of, ‘Hey, this really is something that’s special, and it’s really something that’s amazing.’ … It’s a good feeling.”

sports.ed@ocolly.com