In years past, World Baseball Academy CEO Caleb Kimmel's stress level would be elevated when he heard the drip, drip, drip of rain from the downspout that ran outside his bedroom.
“On tournament weekends, your stress goes up when you hear that trickling going down,” he said. “Now, you can come out and play. We'll still use sites off campus but this field's built where it can take up to 2 inches of rain per hour and still be playable.”
The change is possible from a nearly completed Phase I of a total renovation of the WBA's outdoor facilities that surround the ASH Centre.
Three high school- and college-sized fields have replaced the 1980s-construction youth fields, complete with artificial turf infields and natural grass outfields.
“The outfield grass may need a little bit more time to absorb but Weigand Construction, Design Collaborative and Foresight Engineering did an excellent job dealing with all the earthwork,” Kimmel said. “We've gone through two flash floods where these fields are playable as soon as it stops raining which is pretty cool.”
The timing couldn't have been better with the outfield grass planted in the fall and the fields available for college teams by February.
High school teams started using it in March to avoid postponements and cancellations with the snow and rain continuing late into the season.
“We've never had usage in February or March or even early April in the past,” Kimmel said. “This year, we had colleges coming out in February. Indiana Tech came out; Saint Francis has been playing the majority of their games out here which has been great. We've had Grace College, all these visiting teams coming through, as well. It was a pretty tough spring.
“Bishop Luers has made this their home site for games. Churubusco, Carroll, Canterbury, Wayne, South Side, all those groups have played some of their home games and then you add the visitor list of who's coming on campus. I would easily say as this gains more awareness, people are coming out and seeing it, we'll have a big increase.
“I anticipate that the vast majority of high school teams will be playing at least a game out here every year. Ivy Tech played out here, as well. There will be a lot of needs.”
While the fields are playable, there are a few other amenities that are missing.
The Phase I funding is estimated at $3.7 million. The WBA has raised approximately $3.4 million.
With tournaments scheduled through July, lights will go into the fields starting in August thanks to a $600,000 grant from the Legacy Fund, and as other funding becomes available, scoreboards on Field 2 will be installed as will a pavilion. Bleachers will also be upgraded.
“When we started building last year, we didn't have any funding for Field 2,” Kimmel said. “It was going to be cheap grass seed but as we started rolling out the turf, we had more community leaders coming out and saying, 'Wow, this is pretty impressive,' then stepped up and helped us get that field completed.
“It was really, 'How do we get the fields functional to show the community?' Look how nice this can be, so that's proven to be a great strategy. It was fun to watch the mayor's eyes light up. It took a team effort.”
The WBA has outlined Phase II of the exterior renovations that will include three smaller, youth-sized and softball fields with the earth work has already completed. There's no cost estimate on Phase II just yet as Phase I continues to work toward completion.
“It's taken some best practices from other facilities and it's a budget concern,” Kimmel said. “You can never do as much as you probably want to. We've taken a lot into account to make these fields high school and college size with the space we have. That dictated a lot of the distance between fields, the distance of backstops, figuring out how to position three fields in Phase I that can all be college capable. That was a big factor of the layout of the facility.”
The goal of the upgrades is to increase the impact the WBA has on the youth in the Fort Wayne community while continuing to use baseball as a platform.
“This the next chapter of a very strong baseball history in Fort Wayne,” Kimmel said. “We have a very strong baseball community and we're blessed to meet all the needs and by us being a neutral entity in the community, we can look at the wide range of baseball activities and figure out how to meet the needs that are out there.”
The WBA offers tours of its facilities for those interested. For more information, contact the WBA office at 260-436-1507 or email Linda@WorldBaseballAcademy.com.