Oklahoma City officials for years have stated they want the city to be the Omaha of softball, a permanent home for the Women’s College World Series.
According to multiple sources, it will be announced Thursday morning at a press conference that Oklahoma City will be given a longterm commitment from the NCAA to host the WCWS through at least 2035.
“I don’t want to give anything away, but the city of Oklahoma City will be very pleased,” said Sharon Cessna, the NCAA’s director of championships and alliances. “All the teams here and the NCAA are very pleased with what has happened the last 12 months.
“When you include improvements that will be made this next year, Oklahoma City could very well end up being the Omaha of softball.”
The NCAA moved the WCWS from Sunnyvale, Calif., to ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in 1990. It has remained in OKC every year since except 1996, when it drew sparse crowds at the Olympic softball venue in Columbus, Ga.
“This is what the coaches hoped would happen,” said Alabama coach Patrick Murphy. “There were things that were not as good as they could be, like a bathroom in the dugout. With all the changes, it’s going to be better than we ever imagined.”
One new feature at this year’s tournament is state-of-the-art padded dugouts, which feature restrooms and lteam meeting rooms behind the dugout underneath the bleachers.
When it was built in 1987, ASA Hall of Fame Stadium had a fixed permanent seating of almost 2,000. It was expanded to 5,000 in 2002. Bleacher seating behind the outfield has increased total capacity to 8,000. Next year, an additional 4,000 to 5,000 seats will be added in a triple-deck structure.
ESPN analyst Michele Smith, 46, is an ASA Hall of Famer. A former pitcher at Oklahoma State, Smith played on two Olympic gold-medal teams and also played softball professionally for years in Japan.
“Seeing these young women have the opportunity to play in this environment gives you goose bumps,” Smith said. “It’s great the sport has gotten to that level with the help of ESPN. (Having a permanent home) will really launch this event to even greater heights. It’s fabulous what has happened to softball.”
Florida coach Tim Walton was an assistant on Oklahoma’s staff in 2000 during the Sooners‘ national championship run. That year, fans filled grass berms down the right- and left-field lines before bleachers were added.
Fifteen years later, following $15 million of renovations scheduled for the next 12 months, Hall of Fame Stadium will the finest softball facility in the country.
“I’ve always felt what makes Omaha special is it’s located in the center of the country, just like Oklahoma City,” Walton said. “This tournament has grown so much. The support is great. The people of Oklahoma are great.
“Now getting to Oklahoma City will be a goal of every young girl in America, just like baseball players wanting to get to Omaha. The fans, the competition, everything is so special. I think this place is awesome.”