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Baseball: UNT budget could include money to revive program

Profile image for By Brett Vito / Staff Writer
By Brett Vito / Staff Writer

North Texas is on the verge of reviving its baseball program, school officials and boosters said this week.

UNT’s Board of Regents added an amendment to its budget last week that directed school officials to work with the regents’ finance committee, which will examine the possibility of adding $2.8 million to the athletics budget.

Don Potts, chairman of the committee, said Friday that a portion of that money will help cover the startup costs for a baseball program. UNT could announce the addition of the sport early next year.

“We hope we can get some money into the budget for baseball,” Potts said. “A portion of the $2.8 million would go toward hiring a staff.”

UNT has talked about bringing back its baseball program for nearly a decade. The school fielded a team from 1984 to ’88 before it was disbanded.

UNT joined Conference USA this summer and has maintained since that time that it plans to add a team soon after moving from the Sun Belt.

UNT officials and boosters said the school could have a team ready to begin playing between 2015 and 2017, depending on factors including when it can open a stadium and have the funding in place to hire a coaching staff.

“It’s important for the overall university,” UNT booster C. Dan Smith said. “We will be extremely surprised by the fan base a baseball program will create. We should be extremely competitive with any program in the state really quickly.”

UNT has had a fundraising committee in place for several months that helped the school move forward with plans to build a baseball facility across from Apogee Stadium near the school’s soccer and softball complexes.

Potts estimated that UNT has raised $3 million, a total that would allow the school to finance a $7 million facility.

“We will have just as nice a stadium as anyone in Texas,” Smith said. “We won’t lack for anything.”

UNT quickly turned its attention to adding a baseball program after finishing Apogee Stadium, its $79 million football venue that opened in the fall of 2011. The facility is one of several that UNT has opened during the tenure of athletic director Rick Villarreal. The school added a softball program in 2004 and opened Lovelace Stadium, that team’s home, three years later.

Villarreal said the addition of a softball program was a necessary step toward UNT bringing back its baseball program due to Title IX gender equity concerns.

C-USA has one of the top baseball leagues in the country and has sent at least four teams to the NCAA tournament nine times in the last 12 years.

Denton is a hotbed for baseball talent, which could help UNT become competitive quickly. Detroit Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson and Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Javy Guerra are former Ryan standouts. Former Denton standout Hunter Dozier played at Stephen F. Austin and was the eighth overall pick in baseball’s First-Year Player Draft this spring.

Villarreal has said several times that he believes UNT could be competitive quickly and baseball would bolster interest in the school’s athletic program, especially in the spring after basketball season.

“It’s really, really important to the athletics side of UNT,” Smith said of adding baseball. “We can be highly successful.”