During the 2020 MLB World Series, Patty Gasso sat in the stands and took notes over the Texas Rangers’ $1.2 billion Globe Life Field in Arlington.
While the stadium, which was opened on May 29, 2020, was out of Oklahoma’s budget, the Sooners’ softball coach was looking for inspiration from stadiums around the U.S. to incorporate into OU’s upcoming Love’s Field. Notably, Gasso toured Baylor’s softball facilities, which she considers the best in the entire Big 12, and then expanded her observations to the Southeastern Conference.
From that point on, Gasso kept a folder of notes and pictures from her favorite facilities across the country. Now, following a $12 million donation from Love’s Travel Stops on Thursday — the largest toward a female athletics program at OU ever — the Sooners will have a sterling new $27 million stadium for the 2024 season. Gasso’s convinced the Sooners have found the missing piece to their program and future.
Second to 𝐧𝐨𝐧𝐞 🏆▫️ The largest philanthropic gift directed toward a female specific sport program in @OU_Athletics history.▫️ Most ever privately fundraised for a female student-athlete facility in intercollegiate sport.❤️ https://t.co/snLQ8W8kWE pic.twitter.com/1Aj4qKXFf1— Oklahoma Softball (@OU_Softball) October 29, 2021
“What is monumental for us is that we are able to be self-contained in our own stadium,” Gasso said. “We don't have to go to the men and women's basketball arena for me to sit here to talk to you via Zoom, versus sitting in our classroom with cinderblock walls. We don't have to go to football to use the cold tubs. We'll be able to have our own. There's just so many differences now. … And since I have been here, we've always had to use or borrow somebody else's facilities.
“(This is) a big step towards legitimacy with a big-time facility for a big-time program.”
Love’s Field will be constructed on the northwest corner of Jenkins Avenue and Imhoff Road, with groundbreaking beginning in 2022. The stadium will also include a new training room, locker room, classroom and trophy staging area for a total of 10,500 square feet.
The new stadium will be about one-half mile south of OU’s current Marita Hynes Field. Love’s Field’s parking will be on the current surface of the Lloyd Noble Center. The new stadium’s capacity will increase from 1,900 to 3,000 with additional room to grow.
Oklahoma’s players had to keep the announcement tight-vested for a couple days after Gasso told them. She didn’t want the news to leak, but she also didn’t want her team to be shocked.
There were mixed reactions from every player on the team. Some, who will be on the team in 2024, are excited to take the field and experience the state-of-the-art indoor facilities. But, for players who will graduate before its completion, there is a sense of disappointment.
Gasso, however, sees the development as a celebration for the entire program and its contributing alumni. So does OU President Joseph Harroz.
"This transformative gift from Love's Travel Stops turns our dream of building a best-in-class softball facility at the University of Oklahoma into a reality," Harroz said in a Thursday press release. "Many future generations of student-athletes and Sooner fans will be impacted by the generosity of our friends at Love's, and we are remarkably grateful for their support."
On its run to a fifth national championship, Oklahoma broke program records for team batting average, team slugging percentage, on-base percentage and home runs.
During halftime of Oklahoma football’s matchup versus Texas Tech on Saturday, Oct. 30, OU Softball will be honored with its 2021 championship rings, and the new Love’s Field will be announced. Gasso, who has been in the news for months, is ready to “explode” with emotion and excitement.
“I’ll start with the alums. The timing of all of this could not have been more perfect that we get to celebrate with them this weekend,” Gasso said. “They have their handprints all over this. It started back for me in 1998, and it's just been building and building and building to the point of where we are right now. But, if the foundation wasn't built back then we wouldn't be sitting here where we are now.”
As the Sooners bask in the glory of their 2021 NCAA title, the next step for them is pivoting to the upcoming season, and, in a couple of years, the transition to the SEC. For now, Gasso is assured stadium upgrades were necessary to garner the respect of opponents like Alabama and Florida, but also for fans that pack the stands in every Oklahoma game.
“I think our attendance will continue to grow because of these matchups that are coming from Florida, Alabama, Arkansas and so forth,” Gasso said. “So, it is important for recruiting as well because we need to train you to feed this program and bolster the athletes that are in it to continue to compete.
“The level of intensity and competition will be extreme. So there are many purposes for the stadium to have a lot of meeting meanings in a lot of different areas for us.”
Correction: This article was updated at 11:45 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 30 to reflect the correct opening date of Globe Life Field.