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More Than a Stadium, Oklahoma Preparing for Bittersweet Marita Hynes Field Sendoff

Oklahoma's softball stadium has grown with the program over the past 25 years, leaving memories that helped shape Patty Gasso's on-field dynasty.

NORMAN — For 25 years, Oklahoma softball has called Marita Hynes Field home.

Since opening in 1998, the Sooners have made Marita Hynes Field a fortress.

The complex has served as the home base for Patty Gasso’s program that has won 16 Big 12 Regular Season titles, reached Super Regionals 16 times and qualified for the Women’s College World Series 15 times, winning six national titles.

This weekend, No. 1 OU will host the 16-seeded Clemson Tigers in Super Regional play for a spot in the 2023 WCWS. But the best of three series won’t just be another weekend in Norman.

With Love’s Field on the horizon, this weekend’s contests will be the last postseason games played in the current stadium, serving as OU’s last dance at Marita Hynes Field.

Still, just as the program has grown and evolved, so has Martia Hynes Field over the years.

Initially, Gasso was happy just to have a permanent home.

When she was hired as Oklahoma’s head coach in 1995, Gasso organized practices across the street at Reaves Park.

The Sooners had to fit practice in between slow pitch softball leagues, often having to clean up the dugout from festivities the night before.

Those headaches subsided when the program got its own home in 1998.

“I didn’t have to pick up trash before practice like we did over at Reaves Park,” Gasso said on Wednesday. “We didn’t get kicked off the field at 5 o’clock because they had slow pitch.

“I mean, that’s what we were dealing with. You would never know we were a collegiate team by the way we were treated when we went over there.”

Marita Hynes Field has had numerous upgrades since opening in 1998.

Stands have been added, Oklahoma’s outdoor batting cages down the third baseline were traded for an indoor facility off the first baseline.

But still, the complex has always made an impression.

For many, like former Oklahoma pitcher DJ Sanchez, Martia Hynes was the first window into life at OU.

“My first time at Marita Hynes I was a junior in high school,” Sanchez told “And I remember when my family and I got here for my visit, the very first place that we went and where we were supposed to be was Marita Hynes. So that was my very first experience, not just for softball, but my very first experience (at Oklahoma) was going straight to the ball field.

“… That moment right there of meeting at Marita Hynes and eventually deciding to go to OU shaped my entire life up to this point, and it all goes back to that first experience at Marita Hynes.”

Sanchez would go on to star for the Sooners from 2006-2009, helping fire OU to four straight NCAA Tournament appearances in the circle.

Nicole Mendes was excited when she stepped on the actual field the first time for camps, though she later got more one-on-one time with the coaching staff as her recruitment went further along.

“I was actually in the sixth or seventh grade the first time I played at Marita Hynes and visited,” Mendes, who won two national titles from 2017-2021, said. “It was a team camp… And I thought it was unreal to be playing on like a real college field, you know?”

Later in her recruitment, Mendes recalled the atmosphere around Oklahoma and Marita Hynes Field as major factors in committing to the Sooners.

“The biggest thing that got me to come to OU was Coach Gasso and her mindset and then just how much of a family environment it felt like,” Mendes said. “For me, I’m a person where home means a lot and I want to feel safe. I wasn’t to feel comfortable… It seriously really did feel like home.”

But once on campus, Gasso’s continued success and the growth of the sport as a whole brought upgrades to the facility itself.

One of the first big projects was the addition of the indoor facility along the first baseline.

The building was constructed during Sanchez’s stay on campus, and it unlocked a different dimension for the team at Marita Hynes Field.

“It gave us more flexibility,” she said. “On days we had to go into (football’s indoor facility), it disrupted our schedule because we would be practicing at 8 o’clock at night as opposed to earlier in the day. So getting that indoor gave us more of an opportunity to do what we needed to do at the field and be able to hit and do things inside.

“… So I just remember it being this feeling of oh wow, we are going to be able to have our own kind of sanctuary… Everything that we could possibly need was now currently at Martia Hynes.”

The indoor itself was distinct, as it initially was built to allow the Sooners to work every bit of practice necessary on days where the weather refused to cooperate with the practice schedule.

“It was completely dirt because the goal was to lift the (batting) cages up and be able to run a whole infield in there,” Sanchez said. “The idea of it was amazing and great but the dirt that used to be there had kind of a different smell to it because it had that stuff that helped it retract water.”

The smell played into one of Destinee Martinez’s first memories at Oklahoma, as she visited the facility on her first visit to OU when she was 15-years-old.

“it smelled like crayons inside because there was dirt,” Martinez said. “It wasn’t a turf indoor. It was dirt and crayon smelling, just red dirt. It was a beautiful facility.

“It was great but I just remember walking in there and it smelled like crayons.”

The smell didn’t scare Martinez off, as she helped the Sooners win a national title during her career from 2011-14.

The addition of the indoor facility (and later the replacement of the crayon dirt with turf) weren’t the only upgrades the stadium got over the years.

“It went through quite a few changes while we were there,” Martinez said. “The OU emblem in the carpet (of the locker room) wasn’t there when I was getting recruited. I think we got that my sophomore or junior year.”

Field improvements were essential as well.

One such change, added for player safety, inadvertently led to one of the program’s iconic traditions.

“When I first got there it had a wood wall (in the outfield),” Martinez said. “So there was no padding on the outfield fence. And we sure did run into it often. It did not feel good.”

The wall got a makeover before the 2012 season, allowing the team to pull the padding off after emerging victorious in Super Regionals — a spontaneous celebration that still marks OU’s WCWS appearances to this day.

SB - 2022 Super Regionals

The 2022 Oklahoma Sooners pulled the pad off the outfield wall to mark OU's appearance in last year's Women's College World Series. 

“It was not discussed at all. It was very in the moment,” Martinez recalled. “… We saw that they put 2011 on the wall as a World Series appearance, so then 2012 is when we won supers and then we ran to get that (wall panel) because we learned they put the year on the wall.

“So we went and ripped it off so we can make that process a little easier… We were just helping them out. We just ripped it off for them.”

These days, members of the team aren’t prepped. When the Sooners clinch a Super Regional at home, the party is on.

“When I was a freshman I had no idea what was going on,” Mendes said. “And I was even in right field and then I ran in and everybody’s running out… And then they ran right past me and went to the fence and I was like, ‘oh I guess we’re going this way.’ I had no idea.”

Mendes’ final moment at Marita Hynes as a player ended in pulling the pad off the outfield wall, but at least she was ready for it in 2021.

“I got to make the last out of the game,” Mendes said. “And that was really special… I caught one deep in the outfield and we all hugged and then right there the panels were there with the World Series that we lift up.

“So it was kind of nice. I didn’t have to run very far.”

SB - Nicole Mendes

Nicole Mendes celebrates making the final out of OU's 2021 Super Regional against Washington.

Even before the padding was added to the outfield wall, Gasso had ways to continue to push her team beyond the mental block of playing up against the wooden wall.

Sanchez remembers a practice where Gasso wasn’t happy with how the outfield was easing up as they tracked fly balls toward the wall.

“There was a lot of… hesitation,” she recalled. “… And Coach (Gasso) stops everything and comes out to the outfield and she would kind of go like, ‘What are we doing? You will run through burning flames to catch this softball.’ And the next person up, no joke, coach hits something that was about to leave the yard and the next person up pounds into that wooden wall and jumps over and makes the catch and you just here this big ‘BOOM.’

“And it was excitement from everyone. But it all spurred from coach going like, ‘You will run through this wall to catch that ball. There is no other option.”

The development of Marita Hynes Field wasn’t just limited to the action on the field.

Extra grandstands had periodically been brought in for the Sooners’ biggest games until the bleachers were made permanent.

Lately, Oklahoma even found ways to bring fans without tickets closer to the action, as Home Run Village has opened up beyond the left field wall since 2021.

“That was so much fun because you could hear the crowd inside the stadium and then like five seconds later you could hear the crowd outside the stadium,” Mendes said. “… That was so cool hearing everybody outside the stadium and just seeing how many people were willing to come out and just be close to the games and just wanting to be in the environment of the games. And it’s something you see a lot with football.”

Marita Hynes Field comes alive on gamedays.

It’s part of the reason the Sooners enter this weekends’ Super Regional riding a 46-game winning streak, and why Oklahoma hasn’t lost at home since 2020.

But the work the team does during the week in the offseason is why the stadium remains engrained as the home for OU softball.

Gasso has routinely had the team help clean up around the stadium to help the group remain hungry and blue-collar, but she’s also used it as the setting for important bonding moments that have brought her players closer together.

When taught stretches have the program temporarily playing below Gasso’s high standards, she’s used moments at Marita Hynes to help shift the mood.

“I think it was my freshman year, we could not hit very well,” Martinez recalled. “(Coach Gasso) had a representative from an Indian tribe come and sage our bats. We were all in center field and it was like a bonfire type of thing.

“We all put our bats through this… and were were just in the middle of Marita Hynes. And I think we got in trouble because the the fire marshals were not informed that there would be a bonfire in the middle.”

The Sooners didn’t always have to turn to pyrotechnics to form a bond with the stadium.

Years later, Gasso found another way to help her team focus on the task at hand — repeating as National Champions.

“It was my freshman year and we went out to left field behind the outfield wall,” Mendes said. “… And we dug a hole. And (Gasso) got these replica rings from 2016 and everyone was always talking about repeat, repeat. And she had us write down what it was we were hanging onto and we needed to let go.

“We tucked it inside the ring and we dropped it inside and we buried the rings. And it was cool to have that experience of like, this is part of the field… We ended up going on and winning in 2017 so that was really cool.”

The 2023 Sooners are on the same mission as Gasso’s 2017 team, but with another level of added distractions and the pressure that comes with it.

If the Sooners are able to defend their 2022 national title, they’ll become the first program in over three decades to notch back-to-back-to-back championships in D1 softball.

Additionally, that 46-game winning streak OU brings into the weekend is one shy of Arizona’s 47-game streak that stands as the gold standard in the sport, set across the 1996-1997 seasons.

A pair of wins against Clemson will set a new record and send Oklahoma back to OKC, the latter of which being the only result Gasso really cares about.

But it would also serve as a storybook ending for Marita Hynes Field as the Sooners look to move to Love’s Field at some point in 2024.

“The best part of all of it is that’s exactly how it should be,” Sanchez said. “That stadium has been such a staple for this program and for the sport.

“And the fact that the (win) streak record is on the line at what very well could be the last game, that’s exactly how it should be.”

The move is necessary and long overdue, but even those whose memories were made in those humble confines are ready for the next step.

“I’m really proud of what I got to be a part of there,” Martinez said. “But it’s definitely special to know that the recruits and all the incoming classes from this year moving forward get to look at Love’s Field as the norm. Like that is what college softball is about. That is the pinnacle of softball.”

Love's Field

Artist renderings of Love's Field. 

For Mendes, the move is the next logical step for the program at the heart of the college softball boom.

“As much as I love Marita Hynes and as much as I love that field,” said Mendes, “I think of it again in the terms of a home. And whenever you get a bigger family, you might outgrow a home that you really love.

“… I just think it’s such a testament to how big the OU family has gotten, not just the players and the alums… but the fans are part of the family as well. And they’ve really grown… And you want to make sure that there’s from for everybody.”

Next year Gasso will open her second stadium in Norman, something she’s waited to do for years. And while her excitement is palpable, as her eyes light up and she begins to grin anytime she starts to talk about the 10,500 square-foot complex that will be Love’s Field, she’ll never shine away from the importance of Marita Hynes Field to Oklahoma softball.

There will be plenty of room for every part of the OU family. Gasso will have trophy cases to house all of the program’s honors, which currently sit in a team meeting room next to the locker room.

SB - Trophies at Marita Hynes Field

Oklahoma's collection of trophies sitting in the Martia Hynes Field clubhouse. 

On the site of Love’s Field will be an even larger clubhouse, allowing the players and coaching staff to be comfortable in their new home, as well as all the facilities necessary to run practices.

Still, Marita Hynes Field will be missed.

“To me even looking at it when I do now, I still see the same field that I saw 15-18 years ago,” Sanchez said. “Because it’s different but it’s not that different… I can tell you to this day — I can tell you where my dad stood every game and watching him pace.

“I can tell you exactly where my mom stood every game looking nervous as all get out. I think about those things every time I walk into that stadium.”

Opening Love’s Field will be a crucial step in the development of the Oklahoma softball program.

But the past 25 years were essential in shaping the foundation Gasso has built in Norman, and something that she won’t soon forget.

“When I came here, I felt like we went from playing basketball on the blacktop to coming into a real gymnasium,” Gasso said. “That’s kind of what it felt like, just a big step up. Now we’re going from a gymnasium to a castle.

“… Right now our field here is probably not in the top-four in the Big 12. And we’re still getting recruits to come here. We’re still winning games here. The fans are still pushing their way into the stadium.

“So whether it looks beautiful or not, or whether it has enough seats or not, it’s still where this program was born.”