STARKVILLE, Miss. — You know you have a good stadium when the opposing team agrees with you.
That’s what I found out when I visited Mississippi State to see the Bulldogs play Auburn.
Tigers shortstop Brody Moore says the Bulldogs ballpark is one of just a couple college stadiums in the SEC that are his favorites to play at.
“You can tell these fans love baseball,” Moore says. “The atmosphere is just electric every time we come here and it’s just something really special to be able to play here.”
The largest on-campus facility in college baseball, Dudy Noble Field is the third Bulldogs stadium built in this location since 1967. The ballpark was demolished and reconstructed in ’87 and 2018. The current $68 million-dollar facility opened in ’19.
Bulldogs head coach Chris Lemonis says there aren’t many places like it in college baseball. The reserved seats have sold out every year since 1987. Seats are passed down from generation to generation in wills, he says.
“It’s a great place for our fans. We have sold out for 35 years. [It] has a lot of character,” he said. “It makes it a fun place to play, at least if you are the home team.”
The full name of the ballpark is Dudy Noble Field/Polk-DeMent Stadium. However, the stadium is often referred to by the nickname “The Dude,” and the home team certainly notices The Dude Effect. It’s what happens when the stadium outfield fills with barbecue smoke, and the fans start cheering in unison and singing the alma mater, “Maroon and White,” which are also the school’s colors. When the crowd gets excited, it almost feels overwhelming.
MSU pitcher Cade Smith says he knows how to use the excitement of the stadium to help his game.
“The Dude Effect is just something you don’t get often at many other stadiums,” the sophomore from Southaven, Miss. says. “You kind of just take that energy and put it to your side of how you are going to attack the hitter.”
One of the most interesting parts of the stadium is the 96-rig areas where fans can barbecue during the game. This area is known as Left Field Lounge. People can walk by the rigs during the game and talk to those who are grilling food. Even from the press box I could see smoke coming from the area.
This is where 14-year-old Anslee Taylor and her younger sister McKinley Taylor, age 12, watch the games.
“We have been going to games since before we can remember,” says Anslee, who wants to attend college at MSU someday. “The fan base is really big and cool.”
The sisters hang out as gameday staples like pig ankles, chicken wings and cow’s tongue are grilled up.
Lemonis says fans will send food to both the home and away team’s locker rooms and to the coaches at the end of the games. In fact, sometimes during games, fans slip outfielders from both teams sausages, hamburgers or chicken wings.
So are players allowed to eat when they are on the field?
“I don’t think they’re supposed to,” Lemonis says with a smile. “But I think some of them do.”
To learn more about the history of the stadium, and the Left Field Lounge, I turned to Joe Dier, who worked in the Bulldogs’ media relations department for 30 years before he retired in 2013.
Dier says that when the original stadium opened in 1967, the bleachers were uncomfortable and held only about 1,200 fans. Beyond left field, there was a cow pasture. Only a barbed-wire fence separated the grazing cows from the field.
“Fans, mostly students, would park their vehicles in the outfield,” he says.
Over time, the cow pasture became the popular spot to watch the games. People would come and park their motorhomes there. Fans would bring barbecue grills and pickup trucks filled with seats in the back.
“That’s how it got started,” he says. “It was a place for students to park and they didn’t have to pay to get in.”
Diers, who graduated from MSU in 1975, remembers being a student watching games in the pasture on top of the ’67 blue Chevy wagon that he shared with his sister.
“You get on top of your car, turn the radio on so you could hear the radio broadcast, and put your foot through the window on the car horn,” he said. “Whenever there was a big play, and most of the time you would have to hear it on the radio, then you’d blow the horn.”
The Left Field Lounge is no longer a pasture, but the stadium is still as popular as ever. During 21 of the last 22 seasons, MSU has averaged 6,000 fans per game, including a record average of 8,899 in 2019.
Dier says The Dude fills up with 14,000 or more fans when SEC opponents come to town. The stadium has recorded several NCAA attendance records, such as the crowd of 15,586 in April 2014.
“That may not sound like much when you are talking about Dodgers Stadium, and Yankees Stadium, and places like that, but this is a Starkville, Mississippi population of about 20,000 students on campus,” he says. “So it’s high-percentage involvement and everybody buys into it.”
Lemonis says the good turnout season after season proves that baseball is popular with fans of all ages in Starkville.
“We are a small country town, so it shows you just the size and the magnitude of our stadium,” he says.
Auburn head coach Butch Thompson is quite familiar with the stadium beyond his time with the Tigers. He spent seven seasons at MSU as the associate head coach and pitching coach before he went to Auburn.
“With this facility part of the Southeastern Conference,” Thompson says, “man, this is as good as it gets for college baseball, outside of Omaha.”