How the New Dudy Noble Field Adds to its Bucket List Bona Fides
February 13, 2019 / Jason Michael Ford
Hospitality. What lies at the heart of it? Is it politeness or something else? As designers of cherished gathering spaces around the world, we deal in the currency of comfort. But good design can only go so far in playing the role of host. For a truly one of a kind experience, you need people who take pride in showing others a good time.
Quite possibly in no other collegiate ballpark have more good times been had than Dudy Noble Field at Polk-DeMent Stadium. Over the course of half a century, Mississippi State University’s diamond has developed a reputation as one of the most welcoming and wild game day experiences in the sport. It’s been a bucket list item on Sports Illustrated and other media outlets for decades. And it all started with a few dozen pickup trucks stationed just beyond the outfield fence.
As the Bulldogs get set to unveil a completely new Dudy Noble, the product of a three-phase, four-year renovation designed by Wier Boerner Allin (WBA) and Populous, it’s best to look back on the origins of a one-of-a-kind tradition steeped in hospitality – and how it weighed on a project team striving to preserve the charm while adding to the experience.
The first thing you notice about the Left Field Lounge, the formal name of the very informal party that breaks out each ball game in Starkville, Mississippi, is the wall of smoke billowing out from just beyond the outfield fences. It’s the byproduct of a boulevard lined with grills and smokers, cooking up Gulf Coast delicacies whose deliciousness we can’t even start to describe.
Baseball has been played on the site since 1967. Not long after, a few intrepid fans started parking in home run territory and setting up impromptu tailgates that kept burning long after the final out was recorded. As their setups grew – think homemade stadium seating erected in truck beds – so did the Bulldogs’ baseball success. Competition for space increased, with some trucks and RVs staying put year-round to guarantee a spot each spring.
From the players’ perspectives, the rowdiness of the Left Field Lounge makes for an unbelievable playing environment. Loungers routinely rag on visiting outfielders, keeping it all in good fun and light on any actual hostility. During one of our many trips to Dudy Noble during the design ideation process, one visiting outfielder couldn’t keep from cracking up from all the good-natured ribbing.
In between innings, fans offer hot dogs and other food hot off the grill to players. Tailgaters then welcome them into the fold after the game — regardless of uniform – and consider it their duty the young men leave well fed. It’s an atmosphere that led the best-selling author John Grisham to declare he’d never left the ballpark feeling worse than when he arrived.
Imagine the design team’s collective deep breath when tasked with improving this cherished, Top-five college baseball experience. We didn’t take the responsibility lightly.
We strove to keep the core emotion of “The Dude” the same while modernizing technical elements.
It started, as all good architecture does, with listening and learning. Our design partners at WBA, many of whom are Mississippi State alums who experienced the Left Field Lounge first-hand over the years, led workshops with lounge groups and other Dudy Noble regulars. Together, WBA and Populous gathered invaluable insights into the essence of the experience and distilled them down into design features. We strove to keep the core emotion of “The Dude” the same while modernizing technical elements.
That started with rebuilding the Left Field Lounge. Truck tailgates have given way to permanent terraced spaces, each one designed to be customizable and allow loungers to express their fandom however they see fit. Gravel walkways have been replaced by a new concourse, one that wraps completely around the ballpark and can be accessed by all Bulldogs fans regardless of disability.
“Historically, it wasn’t easy going back and forth between the lounge and the grandstand,” explains Zach Allee, my fellow Populous designer on the project. “We’re excited more fans can now cross the lounge off their bucket list thanks to the new 360-degree concourse.”
Taking the theme of hospitality to the next level, some fans will even be able to welcome others into lofts designed by WBA and built just beyond the left field concourse.
“Dudy Noble connects fans with the game like no other collegiate ballpark,” says WBA Principal Architect Michael Boerner. “These lofts continue that tradition, serving up amazing views of the entire game day scene from luxurious two-bedroom suites.”
Closer to home plate, a brand new, two-tiered grandstand expands Dudy Noble’s seating capacity and ensures more record-breaking crowds in the future. Thanks to its cantilevered design, a feature seldom seen in college ballparks beyond Omaha’s TD Ameritrade Park, fans sit closer to the field while shaded from the steamy Mississippi sun.
The comfort continues in three new clubs including the Farm Bureau Triple Crown Club located behind home plate. Field level views give way to a climate-controlled indoor hospitality space honoring former Diamond Dogs Rafael Palmeiro and Brent Rooker, the only two in SEC history to win the Triple Crown.
Before fans experience any of this, two expansive new entry plazas welcome them to the ballpark. Adkerson Plaza in right field boasts the Ron Polk Ring of Honor and offers a prime vantage point to take in all the upgrades including one of the largest video boards in college baseball.
If you’re making it out this season, we highly recommend soaking everything in via a three-game series. There’s simply too much to see otherwise. That’s why the stadium’s official opening takes place over the course of a weekend series Feb. 15-17.
Speaking of all the novelty, it can distract from how much of the same Dudy Noble spirit will fill the space when the Bulldogs resume playing ball this spring. Our designs don’t distract from what made the venue special in the first place: the people. We took pride in this attention to detail, little things like designing guardrails in the Left Field Lounge so tailgaters can easily attach banners, spatulas, you name it. Their hospitality and hi-jinks turned Dudy Noble into a destination. Our work stays true to that fact.