WKU baseball, Hot Rods continue partnership

Brad Stephens

WKU is seeking an electric home atmosphere and a recruiting edge.

The Bowling Green Hot Rods, in just their third year, are seeking hometown attention.

The two teams think they’ve found an avenue for achieving those goals by working together.

It was announced last Thursday that WKU will play its April 5 home game against Louisville and April 19 home game against Kentucky at Bowling Green Ballpark, home of the Single-A Hot Rods.

Last April, in their first-ever game at the downtown stadium, the Toppers handed the Wildcats a 24-8 loss in front of 6,183 fans. It was the largest crowd to ever see a college baseball game in Kentucky.

WKU Head Coach Chris Finwood said at Thursday’s press conference that expanding the partnership with the Hot Rods to include the Louisville game “made a lot of sense.”

Finwood’s Toppers hope the Bowling Green Ballpark atmosphere will provide a boost against a team that had WKU’s number in 2010. The Cardinals swept the Toppers in a home-and-home series last season.

“They’ve been the best baseball program in the state for the last five years,” Finwood said. “It’s another big-time top-25 program we get to have in there.”

WKU’s rivalries with Kentucky and Louisville also go beyond the playing field.

Since the three schools constantly compete for the best local recruits, Finwood said he’ll take any advantage provided by superior facilities.

The official capacity of Bowling Green Ballpark is 5,700. Compare that to Kentucky’s Cliff Hagan Stadium, which holds 3,000, and Louisville’s Jim Patterson Stadium, which holds 2,000.

“Anytime you can add another coat of glossy paint to your program, it makes it look better,” Finwood said. “Playing there is one more thing we can tell kids and families when we’re on the road.”

Athletics Director Ross Bjork said playing games in a sold-out Bowling Green Ballpark illustrates the university’s commitment to baseball.

“It elevates the program, it helps recruiting to say that we’re playing in this ballpark, and it helps the community to realize our program is getting bigger and better each and every year,” Bjork said.

While Finwood and Bjork said they see obvious benefits for the Toppers, Hot Rods President Brad Taylor said the partnership between the two entities has brought rewards for his organization as well.

“The relationship we have with Western Kentucky University was the gateway for getting a lot of students in the ballpark that may not have come yet to see a Hot Rods game,” Taylor said. “To be able to have that kind of event there is a feather in the cap for South Central Kentucky, Bowling Green, us and WKU.”

Having Bowling Green Ballpark as an option for WKU may also help the program’s efforts to host postseason tournaments.

Bjork said the two sides have talked about potentially hosting not only the Sun Belt Tournament, but hopefully an NCAA Regional or Super Regional.

“We would love to host as many of the big-time events there as possible,” Bjork said. “If we’re going to be able to host 6,000 people, then that’s a great venue to do that.”