HOOVER, Ala. (WIAT) – Friday marks the start of college baseball season, and eight teams from around the country open play this weekend at the Hoover Met Complex, starting Friday at 1 p.m.

It’s the second year of a season-opening tournament the facility is hosting for teams in colder parts of the country, where college baseball fields often are still covered in snow this time of year. It’s not expected to draw huge crowds, but it still underscores the complex’s impact.

“It’s not a 3,000 person tournament or things of that nature,” Hoover Met Complex general manager John Sparks said. “But it’s about the exposure of the city and people coming from outside and experiencing our hotels, our restaurants, and things of that nature.”

The complex has had that kind of impact in a big way since the completion of an expansion project in 2018. In a three-phase project, the complex added the Finley Center, five baseball fields (including four with turf surfaces) and other multipurpose fields. Initially the new fields hosted community leagues, but the facility quickly became attractive as a site for major sports events.

“Popularity gained, and we became more of a destination for people to want to use this environment,” Sparks said. “Not only because of our rich sports history, but geographic location, being a hub in the South. And so it became an attraction.”

With a combination of local and national events, the complex has delivered significant benefits to Hoover and the surrounding area. According to numbers from the Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau in a report issued by the Hoover Met Complex, the complex generated an economic impact of $49-million between October of 2018 and September of 2019.

The complex has been even more successful than some city leaders expected it would be. City councilor Mike Shaw says the new facilities already are starting to max out their availability, and city leaders are starting to look ahead to how the complex can be utilized in the future. Among the ideas they’re considering are meeting rooms, more fields and music performance space.

“We’re really looking hard at that, but the key is right now, it’s so successful that we can start looking at that already,” Shaw said. “Personally I didn’t expect to be looking at that for the next five, 10 years. But we’re already two years in looking at what we can do to make it even more successful.”

The idea of a season-opening baseball tournament was the product of a sports conference complex leaders attended where they learned about college baseball teams seeking early-season game sites while their stadiums remain covered in snow. They added the Hoover Met Complex to the list of sites last year and started the tournament with four teams. This year’s tournament will feature eight, and Sparks says the complex may offer tournaments on additional weekends in the future.

Games for this year’s tournaments were originally scheduled to be played at the Hoover Met Stadium, home of the annual SEC Baseball Tournament. But recent rain in the area left the ground soggy there and on the other grass field, so Sparks said they had to move the games to the turf fields. For a schedule of Friday’s baseball games click here.