The Journal Gazette
Friday, January 26, 2018 1:00 am

The BRIGHT decision

ASH Centre lights have benefits far beyond baseball

Caleb Kimmel

The highest-quality youth baseball facility in northern Indiana, northwest Ohio and all of Michigan is ready for action, right here in Fort Wayne. It includes three new baseball fields with artificial-surface infields, natural-grass outfields with irrigation, fencing, dugouts and asphalt walkways between fields. Youth baseball teams from around Fort Wayne, the Midwest and beyond will be playing on the fields as early as March.

The fields are located at the ASH Centre youth development sports complex, 1701 Freeman St., two miles west of downtown. World Baseball Academy, a local not-for-profit organization, owns and operates the 26-acre complex.

Creating this first-class youth baseball complex is supported by the community. So far, individuals, companies and foundations have donated nearly $2.8 million to build the fields.

Local kids will get to play on the new fields because they are available for mid-week play by youth baseball Little Leagues, travel teams, Wildcat League, and high schools and universities. Bases and pitching mounds can be moved to accommodate play for ages 8 through college.

Most weekends, the fields will be busy as the home of WBA's amateur youth baseball tournaments. WBA is a recognized regional leader in youth baseball tournament organization, having hosted its own Hoosier Classic tournaments in Fort Wayne since 2001.

Kids can't play in the dark, however. So, on behalf of the thousands of boys and girls who will be playing at the ASH Centre, City Council members Tom Didier and Geoff Paddock have introduced a resolution to invest $600,000 from the Legacy Fund to complete the new fields with lights. The Legacy Joint Funding Committee has already approved allocating up to $800,000 for the project.

Mayor Tom Henry supports the investment. Six council votes are needed, along with the mayor's vote, to approve a Legacy Fund expenditure. Here are more reasons why we hope all council members will vote yes to ensure this premier asset will be utilized to its full potential.

High-quality lights will improve safety and reduce light pollution. The proposed lighting system will have a 25-year warranty (and has been approved by zoning officials).

Without lights, use of the fields will be at 65 percent to 70 percent of capacity.

For midweek games, only 65 percent of capability would be reached without lights (100 games instead of 155 per field). For tournament games per year, per field, only 69 percent of capability would be reached without lights (175 games instead of 220).

Over the next 10 years without lights, 2,000 fewer games will be played by local kids mid-week. That's 60,000 individually lost opportunities for a local kid to play a game of baseball.

Return on investment will occur as soon we hit the switch. WBA tournaments return more than $1 million per year in tourism economic impact, but only 69 percent of future economic impact can be reached without lights.

Fully utilized fields will also strengthen the WBA's ability to continue to provide free programs for at-risk youth.

On the surface, this project seems to be about baseball. As we hope you and members of City Council agree, it is about much more than a game.

Caleb Kimmel is CEO of the World Baseball Academy.

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