By Cooper Stanley
The distinct aroma of rubber pellets, sweat, leather, iron and pine tar fill what was once an empty space, a space that had the potential to become one of the premier college baseball training facilities in Oklahoma.
The Jim Dunning Performance Center is a state of the art baseball training facility, complete with two retractable batting cages, full turf flooring, fully functioning bathrooms and showers, Wi-Fi, three big screen TV’s, a full weight room and a training room that is well on its way to completion. The facility allows for Northwestern’s baseball team to practice rain or shine, hot or cold, during season or off season.
Northwestern Oklahoma State has been slowly but steadily updating it’s athletic facilities, largely due to the move from the NAIA to the NCAA, but also to remain competitive in the Great American Conference. Northwestern in the last few years has seen Myers Stadium (the baseball field) receive a turf infield as well as outfield irrigation system, the football stadium received a massive overhaul with a brand new multiple story press box, as well as a full turf field, and recently, Perceful field house, where both the men’s and women’s basketball teams play as well as the women’s volleyball team received a facelift, updating seating and replacing the flooring.
Northwestern’s newest facility upgrade is the Jim Dunning Performance Center, formally referred to by many Rangers as the armory.
The indoor facility is somewhere the members of the baseball team can go to hang out, workout or work on their baseball skills. The facility was up and running for the Rangers upon their return from Christmas break. The timing of the completion of the Jim Dunning Performance Center couldn’t have been any better for the Rangers with their season less than three weeks out from getting back after the break. The ability to hit inside from dusk until dawn if players wanted is a luxury that many Rangers would quickly put to use.
It was a series of events that led to Dunning’s donation that single handedly funded the indoor facility project. From reconnecting with former teammates, to hitting it off upon meeting new head baseball coach Sam Carel, to receiving an offer to be bought out in his ownership of his CPA firm.
“Its interesting how things work out and fall into place. Being a believer I have to think a big part was divine intervention, God doing things we don’t realize until we have a chance to look back.” Dunning said.
The opportunity to make a difference for Northwestern was too good to pass up for Dunning.
Dunning’s generous donation is already seeing its returns and is already making a difference for Northwestern’s athletes. Trenton Early, junior infielder for the Rangers out of Salina, Kan., has been waiting for the indoor to be renovated since he was a freshman.
“It means a lot to me, I’ve been promised it since I’ve been at Northwestern,” Early said. “Its huge to finally have it built and to be able to see the benefits its going to have for not only baseball, but for all sports.”
Casey Dickerman, a senior infielder, and one of the captains of the Ranger baseball team feels the new Dunning Performance Center gives the Rangers a big advantage on other teams without a indoor facility. “Being able to lift up the batting cages to take ground balls inside is my favorite thing about the new indoor. It adds so much to the facility to be able to turn it from hitting cages to a turf area so quickly.”
The experience of being the driving force behind creating a place that will make a program better has made Dunning see things in a different way than he had prior to the renovation. Dunning explained that the completion of the indoor has done just as much for him as it has the University. One letter sent to Dunning from a member of the baseball team stood out to him the most.
“His comment to me was how he appreciated knowing that he could get his degree from Northwestern and go on to be successful at a level that allowed this kind of gift.” Dunning said. “I’d not thought about it in those terms but yes, its absolutely possible, I’m living proof.”
Assistant coach, and hitting coach Jonathan Freemyer thinks the facility being ready for the Rangers as soon as they got back from winter break was huge for the team heading into the season.
“Having this facility gives us a leg up on the competition,” Freemyer said. “Being able to hit inside despite the weather has been big. Having the option for our hitters to get live at bats off our pitchers inside is something we wouldn’t have been able to do without this facility.”
The addition of another top tier facility does nothing but help Northwestern athletics, and Northwestern as a whole. Northwestern athletics with the Jim Dunning Performance center is already better, already a more marketable destination for future Rangers, and already getting the Rangers ready for their competition.
The Armory is no more, what takes its place on Northwestern’s campus now is a sanctuary for the Ranger baseball team to thrive and hone their talents. It’s not just the scent of pine tar, rubber pellets and iron anymore, it’s the electric feeling in the air when the Ranger step into their new home, a home that was made possible by one of their own, Jim Dunning.