Peter Francesconi 2016-05-23 01:08:01
BACK IN THE DAY, KIDS IN THE U.S. grew up playing baseball. In fact, the sport itself grew up with America — its first formal mention was in a Massachusetts law in the 1790s. Baseball was famously played by soldiers of both the North and South during the Civil War, and in the late-1800s, poet and journalist Walt Whitman wrote, “I see great things in baseball. It’s our game — the American game.” Now, with so many other sports and entertainment options available, baseball may be hard-pressed to retain its claim as “America’s pastime.” But you have to admit, there’s something beautiful, soothing and simple about looking out over a pristine ballpark, with its expanse of green in the outfield, well-groomed infield, shining white bases and crisp chalk lines. In fact, every year millions of Americans are still called to the diamond, either as fans or as players. (“Baseball is like a church,” legendary manager Leo Durocher once said. “Many attend, few understand.”) The Physical Activity Council says in 2015, there were 13.7 million players of all ages playing baseball in the U. S., a 4.3% increase from the year before. As the sport continues to attract players of all ages from across the country, there’s no shortage of top-notch venues to attract these players, their families and their fans. Elizabethtown, Kentucky When it comes to putting on a baseball event that is sure to please players, coaches, family and fans, it’s hard to beat the Elizabethtown Sports Park. “As an outdoor youth sports complex, the Sports Park is as close to ‘professional’ as you can get,” says Janna Clark, the sports and sales director for the Elizabethtown Tourism and Convention Bureau. The 158 acres are home to 12 diamonds, with TV-quality sports lighting, brick dugouts, warning tracks and professional bullpens. “Players step onto our fields and are instantly transformed into professionals,” Clark says. “The Sports Park is one-of-a-kind and a must-visit for event owners looking to elevate their events to the next level.” Tournament directors can take advantage of the Sports Park’s streaming capabilities, climate-controlled meeting space and locker rooms for officials. A professional grounds staff keeps the facility humming while providing safe, wellmaintained fields for athletes. Event owners and their staff members, along with families that travel with teams, are just as important. “We want to make tournaments enjoyable for everyone,” says Clark. “You’ll find nice restrooms, including family restrooms, plenty of shaded seating, a clean park and playgrounds situated close to the action.” Elizabethtown is located on I-65 between Louisville and Nashville. “We’ve seen so much growth in our area, visitors will be amazed,” notes Clark, “from downtown shopping and dining, to a new aqua park, to lake trails and new hotel development. We truly are the City of Big Surprises.” La Crosse, Wisconsin Wisconsin offers multiple opportunities for sports, and La Crosse is an excellent hub for baseball. There are many different areas around La Crosse to play baseball events, including venues with three and four fields together. But the premier diamond is at Copeland Park on the north side of the city. “Copeland Park is a really neat venue that’s gone through some pretty major renovations recently, and is about to do another one at the end of this season in preparation for 2017,” says Jeremiah Burish, director of sales and events for Explore La Crosse. “It’s an awesome facility. The people who run and maintain it do an amazing job.” Copeland is home to the La Crosse Loggers of the Northwoods League and to the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse baseball teams. Recent installation of artificial turf on the infield, foul territory, and warning track in 2014 plus the installation of a 17- by 30-foot video board last year has helped to boost Copeland Park’s profile, as it hosts more than 200 yearly events including, in 2015, the NCAA Division III Midwest Regional Championships. In fact, the city won the bid to host the event again this year. This fall, the venue will undertake an $800,000 revamping of the entrance and the facilities in time for the 2017 season. Among the multi-field venues in La Crosse are the diamonds at the Erickson Athletic Complex (which has hosted state tournaments in fast-pitch, among other events), and fields in nearby Shelby, which hosts the Stars of Tomorrow baseball and softball events. Lincoln, Nebraska Since opening in 2002, Hawks Field at Haymarket Park has been one of college baseball’s most well-equipped ballparks. Set on 32 acres just west of campus and near downtown, the complex combines private and public entities, giving the University of Nebraska and the City of Lincoln a one-of-a-kind facility for the Huskers and the Lincoln Saltdogs of the American Association of Independent League Professional Baseball. The complex seats about 8,000, including berm seating, and has multiple locker rooms, changing rooms for umpires, medical training rooms, suites, VIP lounges, concessions, video boards, bullpens, hitting cages and much more. (The Haymarket Park complex also includes Bowlin Stadium, a premier softball field.) Other venues in Lincoln include the city-owned Sherman Field, which sees a lot of action for youth, league and high school baseball and seats about 1,000 spectators. The city recently renovated Sherman Field, including updating the restrooms and locker-room facilities. Multi-field venues in Lincoln include Densmore Field, which has four diamonds in a cloverleaf, for baseball and softball, and four diamonds at Lewis Fields and Mahoney Field. “Lincoln’s a great place to host an event,” says Sales Development Manager Derek Bombeck of the Lincoln CVB. “It’s a central location with easy access, major interstates, airport — we’re a day’s drive from Chicago and Denver and many other major cities. Lincoln also is one of the safest cities in the U.S., according to recent polls. Plus, we have a lot to do here, including a brand-new entertainment district downtown, which is a real highlight of the city.” Lubbock, Texas One of Texas’s top baseball facilities, Dan Law Field at Rip Griffin Park in Lubbock, just got a major $1 million renovation, in time for the start of the 2016 season. The Lubbock facility is home to Texas Tech University baseball, and the renovations included a new video board along with a new turf playing field. “The expanded video board and new playing field will greatly enhance what is already one of the top baseball facilities in the country,” says Kirby Hocutt, Texas Tech’s director of athletics. (Dan Law Field was rated by Sports Illustrated as one of the top three places to watch a college baseball game.) The new video board, at 48 by 22 feet, is one of the largest in college baseball, encompassing the entire width of the current scoreboard. Lubbock also hosts a variety of annual events, including a Weeklong junior college regional doubleelimination baseball tournament, with the winner going to the Junior College World Series, along with championship baseball/ softball events that bring in over 100 youth teams, says Scott Harrison, director of sports for Visit Lubbock. Among the venues for these events are the 16-diamond Lubbock Youth Sports Complex and the four diamonds at the Berl Huffman Complex. Montgomery County, Virginia Located in the southwestern part of Virginia, Montgomery County is home to two of the state’s five largest towns — Blacksburg and Christiansburg — and is within a day’s drive of two-thirds of the U. S. population. The area is easily accessible by major interstates and highways, in addition to airlines. One of the premier venues for baseball in the county is the Harkrader Sports Complex in Christiansburg, which opened in 2006 and features three lighted diamonds with Bermudagrass infields, two batting cages, concessions, restrooms and a tower that houses space for viewing all three fields, ideal for coaches watching their teams in action. Harkrader is five minutes from downtown Christiansburg and five minutes from I-81. “Harkrader has a great reputation for hosting events,” says Lisa Bleakley, the executive director of tourism for Montgomery County. “It has a terrific staff and is well-maintained by the town. The facility has hosted six World Series events there, and this year will host a Top Gun event.” In addition, the area is home to Virginia Tech baseball in Blacksburg and Radford University baseball, with several recreational fields available. The area also has plenty of options for lodging and dining, and attractions and shopping to keep visitors — and families — entertained when not watching their athletes on the field. Round Rock, Texas Texas, of course, is known for doing things big. And Round Rock, just north of Austin, certainly follows that lead. The city bills itself as “The Sports Capital of Texas,” and it’s home to the top-notch, 645-acre Old Settlers Park sports complex, which features 20 baseball fields and five softball diamonds (in addition to multi-fields for soccer and football, tennis courts, and much more). Old Settlers Park, which is owned by the city, also offers two large pavilions, seven playgrounds, five concession stands and numerous restrooms. Baseball has a rich history in the area, says Nancy Yawn, the director of the Round Rock CVB. “At the entrance to Old Settlers Park is the Dell Diamond, which is a beautiful stadium that is home to the Round Rock Express, the AAA affiliate to the Texas Rangers that is owned by former major league pitcher Nolan Ryan and his family,” Yawn says. The diamonds of Old Settlers Park host large baseball and softball events every month, often bringing in more than 100 teams and including World Series and state events. For two weeks every summer, the venue hosts a Super Series Texas State Championship event. “We’re in a community with a lot of support for baseball,” Yawn adds. “Plus, we’re a very family-oriented, familyfriendly destination. We always rank in the top-five safest cities, and we have plenty of hotels and restaurants to suit all budgets and tastes, and that enjoy catering to teams coming into the area. We have the infrastructure and are set up to welcome guests and athletes so they have a great experience here. This is what we love to do.” Worcester, Massachusetts Worcester is less than an hour’s drive from both Boston and Hartford, easily accessible by car and air. Baseball action in Worcester takes place in many well-maintained parks, says Tom Fitzmaurice, sports sales manager at Destination Worcester. “This summer, we’ll be hosting the Little League Urban Initiative; we’re one of 14 locations across the country.” The city also is host to the Northeast Select Baseball Prospects Tournament, which takes place at many diamonds across the city and is billed as the Northeast’s “premier baseball showcase for student-athletes.” Among the baseball venues in the Worcester area is the Hanover Insurance Park at Fitton Field, with a capacity of 3,000 spectators, on the campus of the College of the Holy Cross. The field is the home to the Worcester Bravehearts of the Futures Collegiate Baseball League. In addition, the Worcester State University baseball team plays on the fouryear- old Kevin D. Lyons Baseball Diamond in Rockwood Park, which includes bullpens and a batting cage. The field is operated by the city of Worcester Parks Department. (Rockwood Park also has a premier, lighted softball diamond that has played host to numerous high school state championship tournaments.) The New Balance athletic shoe company is based in the area, and there is a premier field at the New Balance Athletic complex. (The New Balance complex also has one of the area’s finest softball diamonds.) Its JV baseball diamond is home to multiple teams as a practice and game site, and for American Legion baseball teams during the summer.
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