Swinging for the Fences
30 May, 2017By: Peter Francesconi
Many of us probably use at least a couple of baseball expressions every day. Batting a thousand, touching base and striking out are just a few examples, but there are plenty more, many used without even thinking about sports. The sport remains popular, leading to a demand for more facilities. And with a great inventory of venues around the U.S., here are a few to add to your starting line-up.
“We’re uniquely built for baseball, and for softball, too,” says Freddie Willard, director of sales for the Beaumont, Texas, CVB. The city has two 12-field complexes, Ford Park Fields and the Beaumont Athletic Complex, both less than five miles from each other.
Ford Park Fields comprise 12 lighted championship-caliber youth baseball diamonds, along with 11 all-weather turf infields. The fields feature covered bleacher seating with protective netting over spectator areas, as well as a centralized gate with concessions and restrooms. The park also has designated team warm-up areas, 1,000 lighted onsite paved parking spaces and live web streaming from all fields.
“It’s really state-of-the-art,” Willard says. “We have a great setup for vendors and parking is excellent. We’ve held weeklong tourneys there, athletic sports companies have held events there. The synthetic turf fields drain quickly, so players can get back out often in 15 minutes.” In early July, Ford Fields will host a World Series event for 11- and 12-year-olds, presented by the Southeast Texas Baseball Academy.
The 12 lighted fields at the Beaumont Athletic Complex can easily accommodate tournaments ranging from 10 to more than 120 teams. Beaumont’s diamonds play a major role in hosting regional, state and national events. Complete with a clubhouse and restrooms, there is also a picnic area and playground, and the covered stands have protective netting.
Clinton County, Ohio
Clinton County, Ohio, maintains that small-town feel, yet it’s very big in baseball, says Tracy Daniels of the Clinton County CVB. “We have a lot of baseball events happening in our city parks and schools, and there’s a lot of support for the sport here.”
Much of the action takes place at the Blanchester Parks, Wilmington City Parks and Richland Township Park. Blanchester offers four baseball diamonds (one lighted), Wilmington has seven baseball fields (six lighted), and Richland has three lighted youth baseball/softball fields. Each field has bleachers to accommodate 200 spectators. Plus, there are diamonds at the cities’ schools.
Daniels says the CVB can assist throughout the planning process, and additionally has hotels and restaurants to suit all tastes and budgets. Clinton County is located in the “golden triangle” of southwest Ohio, in the middle of Cincinnati, Columbus and Dayton.
Greene County, Tennessee
Pioneer Park on the campus of Tusculum College is the premier single-field venue in Greene County, Tennessee. “The facility is absolutely gorgeous,” says Tammy Kinser, director of tourism for the Greene County Partnership. In fact, the facility will host the National Junior College World Series. “We’re a big baseball community, and the community is so excited. We’ll have a lot of volunteers; people just want to help.”
In addition to being the home field for the Tusculum College baseball team, the 2,600-seat Pioneer Park also is the home field for the Greeneville Astros, the Minor League affiliate of the Houston Astros. The Greeneville Astros have led the Appalachian League in fan attendance every year.
For multi-field facilities, the 55-acre Hardin Park features five ball diamonds, in addition to six pavilions, picnic areas and playgrounds for younger fans. The Greeneville-Greene County Sports Complex has two new ball fields with concession areas, picnic areas and restrooms. Kinser says all five high schools have diamonds that can be utilized for large events, too.
Lake County, Illinois
North of Chicago, along the shores of Lake Michigan, is the sports paradise of Lake County, Illinois. “Waukegan initially put us on the map with its Sports Park,” says Teresa Lewis, sports event specialist for Visit Lake County. “This area supports all types of sports events, but we love baseball.”
The 138-acre Waukegan Sports Park is the top sports complex in Northern Illinois. For baseball and softball, the park features four award-winning lighted diamonds, with parking for more than 600 cars. (The Sports Park also has 14 outdoor sports fields, including a lighted synthetic turf championship field.)
For baseball, the largest complex is the Vernon Hills Athletic Complex, with nine total fields, which includes a four-diamond cloverleaf and fields at adjacent schools. “For tournaments, I’ll generally take the four at Waukegan Sports Park and the four-field cluster at Vernon Hills, and if we need more, we have them available,” says Lewis. Game Day USA has eight baseball events this spring and summer at Waukegan Sports Park, bringing from 100 to 300 teams
Off the field, the area is a bonanza for families and visitors. Halfway between Chicago and Milwaukee, and easily accessible from both O’Hare Airport and the Milwaukee airport. “It’s an easy location to book,” Lewis notes, with more than 8,500 guest rooms, as well as restaurants.
Ocala/Marion County, Florida
“Youth baseball is one of the events that we hang our hat on, because we have the facilities to provide for that,” says Corry Locke, sports marketing specialist at the Ocala/Marion County Visitor & Convention Bureau. The premier venue is the 80-acre Rotary Sportsplex, a county-owned facility developed through a public-private partnership.
The venue, which offers 11 lighted baseball/softball diamonds, serves thousands of young players each year, and attracts more than $3 million in donated materials and services. “The community is really behind the Sportsplex,” Locke adds. “It has a great support system. And when visitors come here, they love it. The maintenance of the facility from the county parks department is first-rate.”
The Rotary Sportsplex, which also has 13 batting cages, has hosted numerous Cal Ripken and Babe Ruth district, state, regional and national events over the years, including the Cal Ripken World Series for 10U and 12U and the Babe Ruth World Series for 14U. Other facilities in the area with multiple baseball fields include Shocker Park, with six lighted diamonds, Belleview Sportsplex, with seven lighted diamonds, and Wrigley Fields, with three lighted baseball fields.
Locke says Ocala/ Marion County continues to promote its sports tourism. The Visitors & Convention Bureau provides a “Play and Save” booking incentive program to organizations that book a new sports event in the area.
Lawanna Lambert, director of the Odessa CVB, says the city currently has 14 baseball fields available, but has in the past used most of its 38 diamonds for large softball events. “As far as big baseball tournaments, we’re currently working to bring more into our area,” she notes. Baseball is big with Odessa College and the University of Texas–Permian Basin.
“Our fields are at parks and schools, and we’ve run some good-size softball tournaments, so we know we can handle big events on the diamonds,” she adds.
Odessa is a sports-centered community. “People come out in droves to support their team, the kids and the sport itself,” Lambert says. And the Odessa CVB steps up to help sporting events coming into the area. The group can offer complimentary registration bags for all participants that include brochures, restaurant guides and more, and the CVB also can provide registration assistance if needed.
Placer Valley, California
Placer Valley, just northeast of Sacramento, is a great place to host tournaments “because it’s safe, affordable and has quality venues,” says Rachel Timms of Placer Valley Tourism. The region offers 27 well-maintained natural-grass fields, many with lights, in family-friendly neighborhoods with plenty of parking, and all with permanent restrooms and space for vendor booths.
Among the multi-diamond venues is the recently renovated Whitney Park, which offers four baseball fields, all with lights. Through a partnership with the City of Rocklin and with the baseball organization Rocklin Pony, Whitney Park saw the addition of new bleachers and a new shade covering, along with portable mounds that can be removed for softball use.
Other facilities that see plenty of youth baseball action are Maidu Regional Park and Mahany Regional Park, each with four lighted ball fields, and Johnson Springview Park and Twin Oaks Park, both with five lighted diamonds. Timms says Placer Valley Tourism recently entered into a partnership with William Jessup University and the City of Lincoln to renovate McBean Stadium, which has a fully outfitted synthetic turf baseball diamond.
Placer Valley has hosted Super Series and Pony national, regional and sectional championships. “When you’re not playing, there’s plenty to do here for the entire family,” notes Timms. Tournaments coming into the area can participate in PVT’s grant program, which provides funding to events that generate overnight stays in area hotels.
Raleigh, North Carolina
The Raleigh area has a unique claim to baseball fame: it’s home to USA Baseball, the amateur sport’s national governing body, and the USA Baseball National Training Complex. The complex has four diamonds (including one stadium with seating for 2,000, a press box, two suites, an official scorer’s room and more), all maintained to Major League Baseball standards.
“We have a great baseball community here,” says Tori Collins, the associate director of the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance, which includes sports-minded Wake County and 12 cities and towns, such as Cary, Apex, Garner, Holly Springs, Morrisville and Zebulon. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have the University of North Carolina, N.C. State, and Duke in the area, too. And the area hosts the minor-league Carolina Mudcats, a farm team for the Milwaukee Brewers, who play in the 6,500-seat Five County Stadium.
The USA Baseball NTC hosts many annual events, including the National High School Invitational, the USA Baseball-Irish Classic, and the National Team Identification Series, and it’s been the home to the NCAA Baseball Division II World Series since 2009. The complex is inside the 211-acre Thomas Brooks Park, which itself maintains four youth baseball fields.
One hotbed for youth baseball activity is North Wake Baseball at The Factory Ballpark, which offers six diamonds and a large fieldhouse and hosts numerous youth baseball tournaments. Other baseball venues in the area include Buffaloe Road Athletic Park, which offers five lighted baseball/softball fields; Parrish Womble Park with four lighted fields; Jaycee Park with three lighted diamonds; and Wendell Park, with three fields (two lighted).
Big Spring, Texas
Big Spring, Texas, at the crossroads of U.S. Highway 87 and Interstate 20, is another city primed and ready to host baseball, according to Haley Lewis, who points to the Roy Anderson Sports Complex as an example of what the area has to offer.
“The Roy Anderson Sports Complex has recently been renovated and expanded and is a fantastic addition to Big Spring’s Parks Department,” says Lewis. “It provides a recreational sports facility to the citizens and includes seven softball fields, two baseball fields, five soccer fields, two football fields, and one practice field.”
New concession stands, restrooms, playground and picnic tables round out the venue’s amenities.
El Paso, Texas
Not to be outdone, El Paso has roughly 70 total baseball fields distributed around the city, 33 of which have lighting for evening games. According to Brooke Underwood, director of convention development for Destination El Paso, “that breaks down in to 35 youth fields, 34 high school fields, one college field located at the University of Texas at El Paso and the newest addition, the $74 million Southwest University Ballpark, located in the heart of downtown and home to the El Paso Chihuahua, the Triple A affiliate to the San Diego Padres.”
Southwest University Ballpark is a 7,500 fixed-seat stadium but can accommodate up to 10,000 spectators. It offers state-of-the-art field construction in additional to amenities such as 23 luxury party suites, splash pad, playground and grass berm. And with sports construction planned for the future, El Paso will be serving as home plate to more baseball, as well as other events, as soon as 2018. SDM