Charity helps Little League field reopen
Rays partner with community to help renovate local fields
TAMPA, Fla. -- Carl Crawford probably captured the moment best on Tuesday morning.
"It definitely makes you want to play," he said. "I can imagine what a 10-year-old is thinking when they step out on this field. ... I know their eyes are going to light up when they see this. They're going to want to come and play hard every game."
What Little Leaguer wouldn't be excited to play on a brand new field with fresh chalk markings?
"This is a very community-minded and family-oriented neighborhood," said Tampa mayor Pam Iorio. "To have rebuilt these fields and re-done the concession stand, it just means the world to this community. They needed it. It was old, the stand was falling apart, the field was in dire need of repair, and now everything looks brand new.
"It'll probably motivate those kids so much."
Iorio and the Rays were on hand Tuesday to rededicate the historic West Tampa Little League Fields after a lengthy refurbishing project. Also at the ceremony were representatives from J.O. DeLotto and Sons, Metro PCS and Bryant Heating and Cooling, each of whom played a large part in transforming the fields from run-down lots to the snazzy diamonds that reminded Crawford of something similar to "the fields we play on in Spring Training."
Over the last six months, 25 tons of old sod was removed from the four fields and replaced with 5,300 square feet of new sod. Forty five tons of clay was used to rebuild the bullpens, field mounds and infields. Four tons of infield top dressing material was laid on the infields, and all of the bases were replaced with "break-away" bases.
The complex also received new pitching mounds and rubbers, a new bleacher roof and a new concession stand.
"We want the kids of Tampa Bay to be able to have a great field on which to pursue their baseball dreams, and their other dreams," Rays president Matt Silverman said. "Baseball fields are a great gathering point, and we think it's great for the residents of West Tampa to have a beautiful park of their own."
These aren't just any fields, many current and former Major Leaguers competed on them as youngsters growing up in the Tampa Bay area. Some notable names include former Rays Fred McGriff and Tino Martinez, former Mets infielder Dave Magadan, Yankees pitching instructor Nardi Contreras, Cubs manager Lou Piniella, Cardinals skipper Tony La Russa and Dodgers outfielder Luis Gonzalez.
Iorio said knowing that several Major Leaguers started their careers on these lots, combined with the inspiration of the now professional-looking fields, is magical for children.
"Not every young kid can be a Carl Crawford, but every young kid should be able to dream about it," she said. "These are fields of dreams, and that's what's really important."
These fields, along with 2006 renovation project Oliver Field at Campbell Park in St. Petersburg, was the second reconditioning project under the Rays Field Renovation Program. Silverman said it won't be the last.
"We're proud of this accomplishment, and of the Campbell Park field renovation," Silverman said. "And we look forward to many others in the area as we expand this program and continue the beautification process."
Dawn Klemish is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.