OKLAHOMA CITY -- Before he passed away, former New York Yankees great Bobby Murcer gave his advice and some inspiration to Oklahoma Christian on how it could revive its dormant baseball program.
The school paid him back Friday by naming a new indoor practice facility in his honor. It includes memorabilia from his careers as an All-Star outfielder and an Emmy-winning broadcaster.
"We had been through probably the roughest storm of our lives with his cancer journey and ... honestly to me it's sort of like the rainbow at the end of the storm," Murcer's widow, Kay, said at a ribbon-cutting ceremony. "That's how I'm going to always think of this."
Murcer didn't attend Oklahoma Christian but he went to church just off campus and within walking distance, just around a bend in the street, from where the facility was built. He also was an adviser in restarting the NAIA school's baseball program in 2008, after it had been dropped seven years earlier.
Murcer had earlier been involved in a similar effort at Abilene Christian.
"He helped us kind of form a vision of where we wanted to go, because he had been involved in such things before, and my only regret is that he didn't get to have a bigger part in it," baseball coach Chuck White said. "I would have loved to have shared this day with him, because I know he would have really enjoyed this."
Murcer died of brain cancer in 2008.
The lobby of the new Bobby Murcer Indoor Practice Facility features memorabilia from Murcer's career, including a cap, glove, bat and his No. 1 Yankees jersey. There are also two seats from the old Yankee Stadium and dozens of pictures, including one with Murcer standing between former teammates Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris.
"He never would have expected this ever," Kay Murcer said. "He always wanted to see the baseball program sort of get rejuvenated and brought back. ... This would have been just the best day for him, too."
Murcer said she would frequently swing by after church to check on the progress of the facility, snapping pictures on her iPhone to send to family, friends and supporters of the project as it grew from a patch of dirt to a frame to a completed building.
When she popped in on a 100-plus degree day this summer, she found White working inside the yet-to-be air-conditioned building. A former player for the Eagles in the 1970s, he personally built the wooden lockers and did much of the handiwork in the 12,800-square-foot facility.
There's enough room for three batting cages, plus open workout space, a clubhouse, locker room, laundry area and coaches offices.
"I knew he was the baseball coach up here but I had no idea he was like all of the 'Extreme Makeover' team rolled into one, up here by himself," Murcer said. "He traded in his baseball cap for a hard hat."
White said he had a connection with Murcer from both growing up in south Oklahoma City, and he frequently uses Murcer as a role model for his players.
"He's a strong influence and so I keep that there in front of them and I talk about Bobby all the time," White said. "Even though they've never met him, I try to help them see who he was."
Murcer's son, Todd, was among the first to take swings in the new batting cages, along with Murcer's grandchildren. Eagles players, who lent a hand in building the practice site, also attended.
"These are young men, many of whom desire to be that next Bobby Murcer and who will be inspired by his name and by the story that goes with this place," university president Mike O'Neal said.