Where the Diamonds Shine Brightest
17 Feb, 2015By: Peter Francesconi
If you use sports as a calendar, baseball is the true herald of spring, with Cactus and Grapefruit league play starting in February, and kids everywhere else flocking to their neighborhood sandlots as soon as the snow recedes.
A Safer Sport for Kids
Always a popular game recreationally in the U.S., baseball participation dipped slightly a few years ago. However, it now appears the sport is gaining strength once again, possibly because as a non-contact sport, baseball is easy on participants when it comes to injuries while still offering great fitness benefits and being an excellent game for children to play. In fact, recent research shows participation for players in the 6- to 12-year-old range has increased significantly, which industry experts say is because concussion-conscious parents are looking for a safer sport for their children.
Research by Sports Marketing Surveys USA for the Sports & Fitness Industry Association shows that overall, nearly 13.3 million Americans ages six and over played baseball in 2013. Baseball leagues, for players of all ages, abound in the U.S., and at least 2 million kids in the U.S. are involved in Little League baseball.
All these players, of course, enjoy playing at top facilities. In fact, there’s nothing quite like the beauty of a well-maintained baseball field when it comes to aesthetic appeal. Whether it’s shorter fields suitable for children or regulation-size ballparks where the major-leaguers round the bases, some of the brightest diamonds can be found in these locations.
Florence, South Carolina
Baseball and its facilities have special meaning in Florence, South Carolina, since former Major Leaguer Reggie Sanders grew up in the city and honed his game at Northside Park. Sanders had a distinguished career, starting in 1991 with the Cincinnati Reds and playing his last MLB game with the Kansas City Royals in 2007. His beloved Northside Park with two fields, and a third nearby in Northwest Park, are still cranking out young and enthusiastic baseball players, but now, says Darlene Buchanan, the recreation manager for the city, other parks add to the excitement.
The largest is Freedom Florence Recreational Complex, with a total of nine lighted baseball/softball fields, all with bleachers. Freedom Florence has five of its fields at an Upper Complex that includes a three-story pavilion with a press box, concessions, restrooms, offices and umpire locker room with shower. The Lower Complex’s four fields are served by a two-story pavilion with concessions, restrooms and press box. Fields at Freedom Florence have computerized scoreboards and there’s also a batting cage facility with eight automated machines for both baseball and softball.
In 2014, there were 51 tournaments at Freedom Florence, including USSSA Baseball, WFC Baseball and For the Love of the Game Baseball events. “We’re creative in our scheduling,” Buchanan says. “We can have one tournament running at the Lower Complex and one at the Upper at the same time.”
Another Florence facility, McLeod Park, offers five lighted baseball fields, concession stands, restrooms and more, in a 48.5-acre facility. Maple Park, with two diamonds, also offers concessions, restrooms and has batting cages nearby.
One of the largest, and one of the few remaining, all-wooden ballparks in the country is War Memorial Stadium in Hampton, Virginia. Opened in 1948, when the Brooklyn Dodgers moved their Piedmont League (Class A) operation to the stadium, War Memorial is now home to the Peninsula Pilots of the Coastal Plain League, featuring top collegiate talent. In May, War Memorial will host the 2015 USCAA Baseball National Championship. With an outfield surrounded with an eight-foot-high wall, the historic stadium features mostly covered seating for 5,100 fans. Players appreciate the state-of-the-art field lighting system. There’s a food court, corporate boxes, digital scoreboard, dugouts, locker rooms and more.
When not on the diamond, says Brooks Hierstein, the senior group services manager for the Hampton CVB, there is plenty to do in the area. “We have visitor information specialists at our tournaments to tell players, fans and families all there is to do in Hampton.”
Among the options are plenty of history, including Fort Monroe and the Virginia Air & Space Museum, and the 60-acre Bluebird Gap Farm, a family-oriented adventure and educational experience with domestic and wild animals. “Sports may bring visitors to Hampton, but we want them to use it as a vacation, too,” Hierstein says.
The home of the Cornhuskers baseball team is Hawks Field in the Haymarket Park complex, in downtown Lincoln just west of the University of Nebraska campus. The unique venue can seat 4,500 in the stands and another 4,000 on the grassy berms along the outfield walls. The facility has also hosted events such as the State High School Championships and NCAA Regional tournaments.
Another key diamond in Lincoln is Sherman Field, “where the majority of our local state championships are held and where many club teams play,” says Derek Bombeck, the sales development manager for the Lincoln CVB. “Sherman Field is a signature field here in Lincoln.” The historic, city-owned facility, which was built in 1947, recently went through a $3 million renovation that included new lighting, dugouts, concessions, restrooms and much more.
“We’re a hot commodity and get a lot of requests to play here in Lincoln,” Bombeck says, “because everyone wants to play their tourneys near the College World Series atmosphere,” which is in Omaha, only about 45 miles away.
Baseball is popular in Lubbock and the area has the fields and complexes to prove it. “We have a lot of tournaments coming through,” says Cris Rohrer, the sports sales manager for Visit Lubbock, “and we do a great job of making sure teams feel welcome and everything runs smoothly.” Of course, the area’s central location and great weather helps, too—Lubbock averages over 260 days of sunshine a year.
What also helps to bring in events: the wealth of excellent facilities, including the Lubbock Youth Sports Complex and the Berl Huffman Athletic Complex. The Lubbock Youth Sports Complex features 16 fields, lighting, irrigation, covered seating, concessions, restrooms and more. Three of the fields meet Little League specifications. LYSC has hosted baseball events with more than 130 teams participating. The Berl Huffman facility has four diamonds with shaded seating, concessions and more.
College fields also are available, including Dan Law Field, which is home to Texas Tech University baseball. Dan Law Field underwent a $5 million renovation a few years ago and now is considered one of the premier collegiate diamonds in the country. In addition, Hays Field on the campus of Lubbock Christian University features Astroturf, seating for 2,000, meeting rooms, concessions, press box and more.
Palm Beach County, Florida
“We love baseball,” says George Linley, executive director of the Palm Beach County Sports Commission. “It’s one of our core sports that drives tourism here. We have the only spring training complex in the state that is home to two Major League Baseball teams.”
Roger Dean Stadium, which hosts spring training for the Miami Marlins and the St. Louis Cardinals, is a 7,000-seat stadium that also is part of a complex with 12 other fields. After the big-leaguers depart in March, Roger Dean hosts some of the nation’s largest amateur baseball tournaments. In 2014, Palm Beach County hosted nearly two dozen baseball tourneys, bringing in over 6,000 players.
“Because of the competitive advantage we have with Roger Dean, major brands in amateur baseball, such as the Under Armour National Series, USA Baseball, Cal Ripken, and Perfect Game, bring their events here,” Linley says. “We can host anywhere from 70 to 100 teams in one location. Having this many fields in one location is something you don’t see in this state.” The county also is home to the Santa Luces Athletic Complex, which has four MLB-regulation diamonds.
Round Rock, Texas
The diamonds shine brightly in Round Rock, which bills itself as the “Sports Capital of Texas.” “Baseball is big around here,” says Nancy Yawn, director of the Round Rock CVB. “Champion Fields at Old Settlers Park has 20 baseball and five softball fields, with five more fields on the way.” Many of the fields are in pods of three, four or five, enabling the facility to host multi-team tournaments. In fact, Old Settlers Park hosts Super Series events that often bring in up to 200 teams.
At the entrance to the park is Dell Diamond, home to the Round Rock Express, the AAA affiliate of the Texas Rangers. Dell Diamond is owned by the city and can seat about 11,600 fans. For many amateur events, the opening ceremonies and the championship games take place in Dell Diamond. “The kids love it,” Yawn adds.
Round Rock is a family-oriented city and rated one of the safest in Texas, Yawn says. “We have a vibrant historic downtown and plenty of hotels and restaurants to suit all budgets and which can easily accommodate teams. We’re set to handle any size group.”
In Scottsdale, the main facility for baseball is Scottsdale Stadium, which is the spring training home of the San Francisco Giants. The site has hosted the Giants since the 1950s and is one of the oldest spring training facilities in the Cactus League. In addition to the stadium, the complex includes a full-size practice field plus an infield field.
Denise Clayton, the recreation coordinator for the city of Scottsdale, says there are about 22 diamonds available in the area, including four full-size, lighted baseball fields at Indian School Park. “The weather here is so nice, with more than 330 days of sunshine, that you can play year-round,” Clayton says. Off the field, visitors will find plenty of things to do in the city, including many family friendly attractions.
Valdosta-Lowndes County, Georgia
“We’re very fortunate to have great facilities here in Lowndes County to host regional, state and national tournaments,” says George Page, director of the Valdosta-Lowndes Parks & Recreation Authority. “The first thing you need to do when hosting a tournament is be able to finish that tournament. We laser-grade every one of our 19 baseball fields, so it can rain two inches, but we are still able to play in less than an hour.”
Among the premier facilities in the area is the multipurpose Freedom Park, with eight diamonds available. Also planned for Freedom Park is a Miracle Field; once built, it will be the only such facility in the area. A Miracle Field is a synthetic turf baseball diamond designed specifically for use by individuals with special needs; the surface is engineered to be ideal for players who use wheelchairs, walkers, etc.
Another key baseball venue is South Lowndes Recreation Complex, with two adult and two youth baseball/softball fields, concessions and more. The Vallotton Youth Athletic Complex features seven youth baseball fields, concessions, restrooms and a playground. The three complexes combined give Lowndes County the ability to host more than one event at a time, or one very large event.
Page says his staff makes sure all their facilities are clean and well-maintained. They also pay close attention to the sports lighting at their diamonds, “which is critical when hosting these events,” he notes. “We pride ourselves on taking care of all these facilities so that players, parents and fans feel confident the fields are safe to play on. It’s important to us that everything is top shelf, the staff is friendly and visitors leave with a good feeling about the service we’ve provided.”