The evolution of Pete Taylor Park
HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) - A decade before Scott Berry became an assistant coach at Southern Miss, he made a trip to Pete Taylor Park as a volunteer assistant at Southwest Missouri State.
“1990 – I remember it like it was yesterday,” Berry said. “The grandstands, everything was being built. There was no press box. John Cox was actually announcing down on the field over by our dugout. As I left this park I can remember saying if I ever had a chance to coach here, this would be a dream come true. I just fell in love with the atmosphere. I fell in love with aesthetics of this field, the backdrop, everything about it.”
Of course, that was just the infant stage of former Golden Eagle skipper Hill Denson’s vision of what USM’s ballpark could be.
At that time, the Pine trees lining the right field fence were just six inches tall.
Southern Miss couldn’t afford to pay a ticket attendant so a couple of players were assigned to the front gate – except there was no gate and admission was free.
Denson soon realized he needed to give people an incentive to come to games and stay.
“We just charged a dollar,” Denson said. “Obviously we didn’t make a lot of money but the point was if people paid a dollar, they’d stay.
“It even got to where they were hollering at a coach. We got to a point where people did care whether we win or not.”
Denson did plenty of winning in Hattiesburg, leading USM to 468 victories in 14 seasons and the school’s first NCAA Regional berth in 1990.
Corky Palmer followed with 458 wins and the program’s first trip to the College World Series in his final season (2009).
As Berry prepares his team to host a second straight Super Regional after compiling a school-record 527 wins, over 5,000 fans are expected to fill Pete Taylor Park with tickets selling for hundreds of dollars.
“Coach Denson’s vision of what he wanted the field to look like and the [Right Field] Roost,” said USM Athletic Director Jeremy McClain. “He really had to work hard to get to a place where people could start believing in what we were doing. It’s just kind of stacking brick on brick and building a foundation that is sustainable.”
“That’s part of our whole persona – blue collar type, work hard,” Denson said. “Show people that, by golly, we are good. This is where we thought we’d be. I didn’t know it would take so long. I thought it might be a little quicker while I was here.”
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