Baseball in the Bluegrass: Elizabethtown is the New Ripken Experience | Sports Destination Management

Baseball in the Bluegrass: Elizabethtown is the New Ripken Experience

Jun 21, 2022 | By: Mary Helen Sprecher

From its lush fields to its all-American charm, Elizabethtown Sports Park has plenty of advantages for youth ball players. And those advantages were enough not just to catch the eye of Ripken Baseball but to bring it home as the newest Ripken ExperienceTM venue.

The decision, released just this week, makes Elizabethtown Sports Park only the fourth Ripken Experience venue in the United States. Under the official banner of The Ripken Experience™ Elizabethtown, Ripken Baseball will bring world-class youth baseball and softball tournaments, plus week-long experiences, to the state-of-the-art complex starting in April 2023. The Ripken organization has already begun promoting the new destination

The Ripken ExperienceTM is a series of purpose-built baseball venues. Its three current facilities are located in Aberdeen, Maryland; Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Across its facilities, clinics, and tournaments, Ripken Baseball hosts more than 120,000 participants and 350,000 guests from all 50 states and 12 countries annually.

Ripken Baseball taking the field
Image courtesy of Ripken Baseball

Each facility provides a big league experience for players, including opening ceremonies, professional-grade announcers and walk-up music as they come to bat. An MLB Ambassador also participates in the tournament and participates in a private Q&A session with all the coaches.

In seeking out a new destination, Ripken officials knew they had found what they were looking for once they arrived in the Bluegrass State and came to Etown. Youth baseball organizations, including Travel Ball Select, The Youth Baseball Nationals and the Youth World Series – and even the adult-level Etown Wiffle Ball League – have long loved the sports park, which celebrated its 10th year in business this spring. And Ripken officials were bowled over as well.

“We were impressed by the complex, the people, and 10 years of success,” said Michael Kenney, Ripken Baseball's Executive Vice President. “Our goal is to make the next 10 years even better, working shoulder to shoulder with our partners at Elizabethtown Sports Park and Sports Facilities Management.”

Elizabethtown Sports Park has three quads for baseball, softball and fast pitch, totaling 12 synthetic turf diamonds, all with lighting. Additionally, there are three large pavilions for events, and one accessible field with spectator seating, locker rooms and meeting rooms for officials, parking for cars, as well as buses and vans, and conveniently located family-friendly hotels and restaurants.

The combination of the sports park and Ripken Baseball was, said Elizabethtown Mayor Jeff Gregory, a match-up made in heaven.

“Bringing The Ripken Experience and the Elizabethtown Sports Park together creates the ultimate win for families and players,” said Gregory. “The excitement and energy behind this partnership is exactly why we feel it’s a perfect fit for us and we look forward to welcoming teams and their families to our community.”

Once events have ended in Etown for the season, it will undergo some cosmetic changes.

“We will incorporate the Ripken Baseball branding and signage for the 2023 season,” noted Kenney. “But the amazing thing about the Elizabethtown Sports Park is that it's otherwise move-in ready with spectacular fields and facilities. Similar to all of our Ripken Experiences, we'll look for ways to improve on the facilities to keep them at a world class level into the future.”

In the 10 years since its opening, Elizabethtown Sports Park has attracted 160,000 visitors annually. Within the past decade, Elizabethtown Sports Park has been responsible for generating $150 million in direct economic impact for the city. With the goal of bringing even more teams and families to Elizabethtown, Ripken Baseball will host events on the 12 interchangeable baseball/softball turf fields.

“The fields and facilities at Elizabethtown Sports Park are in the top tier of youth complexes in America – a category I believe includes our other Ripken Experience™ locations across the country,” said Cal Ripken, Jr., who founded Ripken Baseball with his brother Bill. “When we think about The Ripken Experience™ Elizabethtown, the keyword is experience. Our teams and their families will be treated like big-leaguers, creating lifelong memories together.”

Ripken Baseball taking the field
Image courtesy of Elizabethtown Sports Park

Ripken Baseball continually evolves its experience for youth players. The organization offers events in different formats, including week-long tournaments, three- and four-game tournaments, spring training that allow high school and college teams to tune up their game prior to the season, and a collegiate summer league to provide play when school is out. This year, it began offering Ripken Select tournaments, bringing the experience of big league competition to other areas of the U.S.

In April, SDM sat down with Amanda Shank, vice president of business development for Ripken Baseball. In that discussion, found here, she noted that Ripken Tournaments create lasting memories for the children who participate in them.

“I actually went house hunting not too long ago and I can’t even begin to count the times I visited homes where the families had kids and in the bedrooms were trophies from Ripken tournaments. That’s really what this industry should always be about.”

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