The World Baseball Academy, a Fort Wayne organization that promotes baseball opportunities for kids, announced Tuesday that it plans to add a full-turf adaptive field to its ASH Centre athletic complex within the next year.
The new field is being built in partnership with the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation and will be Little League-sized, making it smaller than the three existing fields at the Freeman Street campus.
The Youth Development Field will be harder than a typical field to make it accessible to wheelchairs and walkers. It will also be entirely flat, and bases, baselines and the pitcher's mound will all be represented by different colors of artificial turf to prevent slipping and tripping hazards. The field will be the first of its kind in northeast Indiana.
“We've been privileged to work with (Northrop alum and former major league manager) Eric Wedge for a long time, so Eric helped connect us to the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation,” WBA CEO Caleb Kimmel said. “What we've found is that the vision and the mission of the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation is very much aligned with the passion of the World Baseball Academy. So it really became a natural fit.”
Chuck Brady, vice president of the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, said the national organization and the WBA had already agreed to work together before settling on a project that would benefit children with disabilities.
“We met with some community groups together who shared some of the needs, and one of the things that rose to the top was there really wasn't a place in the community right now where children with special needs could have a field of their own, a field that was built for them,” Brady said.
Kimmel said the national foundation is aiding WBA in funding and in designing the field.
“You have to make dugouts a little bit bigger, because there are kids in wheelchairs and kids playing alongside a buddy, so there are a lot more people in the dugout,” Brady explained. “We've done about 15 of these around the country, so we've kind of learned what some of the standards are and what some of those design elements were to really make this a positive experience.”
The new field is expected to cost $1.1 million, and the project, which includes improved lighting, landscaping and parking, is budgeted for $2.3 million. More than half the cost of the field has already been raised with the help of the AWS Foundation, a local group that supports people with disabilities, and the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation has agreed to match up to $100,000 of funds raised for the project in the next month.
Kimmel said the area where the new field will be located is already prepared for construction, and installation should take three to four months. He hopes that funds will be raised quickly enough so that kids can use the new field in 2019. Use of the three existing fields should not be limited by the new construction.
Brady said that the partnership between the Baltimore-based Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation and local baseball organizations can last 15 to 20 years.
“We'll have staff assigned to the World Baseball Academy who will work with them on a regular basis to help with everything from bringing clinics for kids to supplying kids who may not have baseball gloves,” Brady said. “We have camps every year in the Baltimore area, we fly kids out there. We have a lot of program curriculum that can be delivered out on the field. It's an abundance of programs and resources.”
Kimmel said he is excited for what should be the highest quality field in the area, and the fact that it will be shared by all sorts of kids.
“It's going to be a beautiful field, all turf, which is an asset in and of itself,” Kimmel said. “The quality itself is really exciting, to be able to say we have the nicest field being utilized by at-risk youth and students with varying abilities, and so I think that's a neat thing for Fort Wayne.”