Summer baseball is an integral part of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Golden Lions' program.

As each player arrives on campus, they’re assigned a summer league team by Head Coach Carlos James, so that when school is out, they can continue to improve their skills.

James said the Golden Lions have players all across the United States and in Canada and some will wrap up their summer leagues as early as this weekend and head back to campus.

For example, rising sophomore Jarficur Parker has been in Vermont for the summer, and James believes that being on his on will help him mature for the upcoming season.

“All my players are off playing summer ball,” James said. “We have guys in Canada, Alaska, Minnesota, Florida, Kansas, and California. That’s been our norm, as soon as our season is over, our guys are probably playing a summer ball game within seven to ten days. That’s another reason why we harp on kids getting their grades and making sure they’re up to par so we won’t have to worry about summer school. We haven’t had that problem and our kids do a really good job of staying on top of things so that they can go play, get better, and mature.”

When the players arrive back on campus, they have something to look forward to as renovations and upgrades to the facilities are set to be completed, thanks to a $2.5 million donation from Simmons Bank.

“We're supposed to start on our pavilion at the end of August, and with the turf, it’s a matter of doing some paperwork in order to get it started,” James said. “We should have everything ready before the season starts, which is exciting for us.”

Donations by Simmons Bank, Pine Bluff native and MLB great Torii Hunter and others have helped to improve the image of the program, and James said recruits are taking notice of what’s going on, and how the excitement around UAPB baseball continues to grow.

“It has gotten the interest back up again,” James said. “We had it when they first built the stadium, and then it kind of died out for a while. Then recruiting died out for a while which led the last two years. With the money that was given for baseball, with Torii and his crew, and our regular donors it’s gotten a lot better. The reception that we’re getting from kids we’re recruiting for ‘19 and ‘20 has been great.”

The new artificial turf field that will be featured at the Torii Hunter Complex is a huge deal because UAPB will be the first school in the Southwestern Athletic Conference to have one. James is convinced that when the process is completed, UAPB won’t only have the best facility in the SWAC, but perhaps the second best in the state of Arkansas.

“The good thing about it is we’ll be the first school in our conference to have it,” James said. “Football will be sixth, but it’s nothing like being first. That gives you a recruiting edge on everybody else. It means a lot for us. These days it’s about facilities and how it looks for the kids. If we can be the one school to have something that our peers don’t have, that’s going to give us that edge if we’re going after the same person.”

“To be honest when it’s all set and done and looking nice, we’ll have probably the second best facility in the state period,” he said. “That’s going to be good for us because it’ll increase our visibility for the kids all over the state that can play at this level. It’s huge for us right now.”