For Marita Hynes, OU’s Love’s Field is the latest sign of softball’s national rise

For Marita Hynes, OU’s Love’s Field is the latest sign of softball’s national rise

Marita Hynes coached at Reaves Park and spearheaded the construction of the first softball stadium in Norman. She sees the Sooners' new ballpark as another signal of how far her sport has come.

Eli Lederman

By Eli Lederman

| Feb 29, 2024, 11:00am CST

Eli Lederman

By Eli Lederman

Feb 29, 2024, 11:00am CST

(Eli Lederman’s “OU Week in Review” newsletter hits inboxes every Saturday morning. Subscribe here.)

NORMAN — In terms of the places Oklahoma’s softball program has called home, Marita Hynes has seen it all.

The Sooners resided in the humble confines of Reaves Park during Hynes’ eight seasons in charge of the program from 1977-84. Back then, OU could expect to draw 40 fans per home game; maybe 60 for the biggest dates on the Sooners’ schedule. 

Years later, in her role as OU’s senior women’s administrator, Hynes played an integral part in the construction of the OU Softball Complex, which opened in the spring of 1998. The Sooners called the stadium home for the next 25 years and collected seven national titles along the way. In 2004, OU officially dedicated the ballpark’s playing surface as Marita Hynes Field. 

Now, the Sooners are headed to their home at Love’s Field, just up the road on South Jenkins Avenue. As of Friday, college softball’s three-time defending national champions will play their home games inside the biggest and most expensive on-campus stadium in the sport. 

OU’s $47.1 million softball stadium lies half a mile and a long way from where it all began at Reaves Park. For Hynes, the second coach in program history and one of the sport’s greatest advocates, the new ballpark represents another signal of the rapid ascent college softball has enjoyed in the 21st century. 

“The interest in softball has grown so much,” she told Sellout Crowd last week. “It would have been hard for me to have imagined any of this 26 years ago.”

Hynes has spent the last 20 years living in Ruidoso, New Mexico. Her small community, Hynes points out, includes eight golf courses. At 76 years old, Hynes estimates she plays in 17-20 golf tournaments a year.

This weekend, however, will be reserved for softball. Hynes is set to be on hand as the Sooners open a new era in their shiny new facility with a four-team event featuring visitors Liberty, Miami (Ohio) and Louisiana. 

“Patty Gasso asked me to come in and said she would give me a tour of it right before it opens,” she said. 

Hynes was there the last time OU unveiled a new ballpark. The stadium that eventually carried her name came straight out of Hynes’ imagination.

Hynes was attending conference meetings when former athletic director Donnie Duncan first mentioned the concept of constructing a purpose-built softball facility on campus in the mid-1990s. Duncan eventually put the Sooners’ former softball coach in charge of the project. 

Hynes identified the site for the stadium off South Jenkins, drew the preliminary diagrams and spearheaded OU’s fundraising efforts. In 1998, the ballpark opened as one of the nicest facilities in the nation and one of the softball-exclusive complexes outside the West Coast. 

“I never dreamed that we would need a bigger facility,” Hynes said. “I thought that was state of the art. Of course, you know how Oklahoma fans are; when you have seven national championships they’re going to hop on board.”

Twenty-six years later, Love’s Field — with its capacity of 4,200 — opens as another testament to the growth of the game and the stark difference in the environment the Sooners modern softball dynasty now resides in compared with the era in which the OU Softball Complex was born.

From retirement, Hynes can see the evolution her sport continues to enjoy all over. She marveled last fall when she tuned into the Sooners’ fall Battle Series on ESPN+ and saw Marita Hynes Field packed on a chilly October evening.

“Here you have a sold-out facility for an intrasquad scrimmage,” Hynes said. “That was amazing.”

In addition to her contributions at OU, Hynes was a key driver in helping bring the Women’s College World Series to Oklahoma City in the 1990s.

Fewer than 9,000 fans attended the championship event in the first year the WCWS came to the Sooner state. Last spring, 12,300 showed up at Hall of Fame Stadium for Session 1 alone. More than two million more watched from home on the night OU clinched its third-straight national title.

“We were kind of excited the first year because our attendance was 8,500,” Hynes said. “Now, it has exploded. A lot of that’s because of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. But I truly believe if neither one of those programs were in it, they would still fill it up.”

Gasso, the Sooners’ 30th-year coach, sees it all too. Last weekend’s trip to California for the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic was the latest reminder of the wave OU has found itself at the front of. 

“I’m seeing people mimic Jayda Coleman, Rylie Boone. Kinzie Hansen? You would have thought Taylor Swift was out on the field out in Palm Springs,” Gasso told reporters Tuesday. “The kids are screaming her name and kids are getting up on the shoulders of their dad and trying to reach. It was unbelievable.”

“Every year it gets bigger and bigger and bigger,” she continued. “But it’s not just our team. I know there’s other teams getting that same kind of feedback and fan support. But I do believe that we have been a big part of leading this charge.” 

On Friday, when Hynes steps into a sold-out Love’s Field, she’ll be a world away from Reaves Park, and even the one she helped create on the site that became known as Marita Hynes Field.

Hynes has seen it all at OU. And because she got to live the past, she knows just how far it’s all come for the Sooners as the seven-time national champions enter a new home this weekend. 

“I can look back and think about the hard days and being out on the field and raking up the bases and trying to squeegee off the seats for people to come in,” Hynes said.  “It’s quite a difference now.”

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Eli Lederman reports on the University of Oklahoma for Sellout Crowd. He began his professional career covering the University of Missouri with the Columbia Missourian and later worked at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette before two years writing on the Sooners and Cowboys at the Tulsa World. Born and raised in Mamaroneck, New York, Lederman grew up a rabid consumer of the New York sports pages and an avid fan of the New York Mets. He entered sportswriting at 14 years old and later graduated from the University of Missouri. Away from the keyboard, he can usually be found exploring the Oklahoma City food scene or watching/playing fútbol (read: soccer). He can be reached at eli@selloutcrowd.com.

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