Baseball talk kick-starts UNT caravan

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North Texas continued a long-standing tradition Monday night when talk centered around an old topic for the athletic department — the long-awaited return of the school’s baseball program.

UNT athletic director Rick Villarreal and several of the school’s head coaches spoke in the Hub Club at Apogee Stadium about their teams and the direction of the department.

The school’s plans for a baseball program were among the first topics addressed. That likely won’t change as the UNT caravan continues with stops in Plano late Tuesday, First State Bank Conference Center in Gainesville today and the Cotton Bowl in Dallas on Thursday.

Villarreal updated several hundred fans on a few developments in the process. The longtime UNT official said that the school has a major sponsor for a new baseball stadium, is courting donors for naming rights for the facility and likely will field a team in 2016-17, although 2015-16 had not been ruled out.

Villarreal said the school soon will announce a major gift that will go toward a baseball program.

UNT last fielded a team in 1988, when the program was disbanded.

“I would like baseball to be my swan song,” Villarreal said Tuesday afternoon before heading to the Plano event at Park Place Lexus. “It’s something that is needed. You could win a national championship here. I believe that, and coaches across the country believe that. Coaches will tell you, the minute North Texas starts baseball it will be competitive. I believe that is true only if we do it the right way, build a good facility, hire a good coach and are prepared.”

Villarreal emphasized that UNT has been diligent while laying the groundwork for the program to ensure that is the case.

UNT has conceptual drawings of a new park that would sit across Bonnie Brae Street from Apogee Stadium and adjacent to Lovelace Stadium.

UNT has a number of coaches it would like to talk to about building a program once it announces its return.

The school is sorting through some system-wide financial issues that have delayed UNT taking on the expense of adding a program.

UNT included $600,000 in its last budget to cover startup costs.

Villarreal and school officials have long maintained that UNT could field a competitive team because of the talent in the Denton area. Detroit Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson and Chicago White Sox pitcher Javy Guerra — who was called up Tuesday — are Ryan graduates.

There are numerous other players from the area playing in the minor leagues or at colleges across the country.

“What separates baseball from everything else here is you have nationally recognized and active coaches who are interested in this job because they really believe that if you combine the talent in this area with the right facility, you can play with anyone,” Villarreal said. “You can keep kids local who want to have their parents and friends come and see them play.”

The addition of a baseball program is just one of the topics being discussed at the caravan events. Football coach Dan McCarney, men’s basketball coach Tony Benford and women’s basketball coach Mike Petersen all discussed the state of their programs heading into the summer months.

McCarney led UNT to a 9-4 finish and a win over UNLV in the Heart of Dallas Bowl in his third season. The bowl win was the third in school history.

“It’s great to get out, see people and thank them,” McCarney said. “What we have to do is get more new faces to these things. I see the same faces. Those people are so loyal, generous and dedicated. They have been doing it for so long. We have to get more people behind this program for the good of all of us.”

UNT is hoping its string of caravan stops will help it reach that goal.

“This helps us get the message out,” McCarney said. “We need people to get out and get behind us so we can be a factor in the Conference USA race no matter the sport.”

Villarreal reiterated Monday that UNT’s list of sports soon will include baseball.

BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.


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