The Ballparks of America in Branson, MO
Recently I watched a report on the local evening news detailing a new ballpark. I paid little attention to it until they began to give the details. In nearby Branson, Mo., also known as Nashville West or the "live music show capital of the world" an audacious endeavor was underway with a completion date in the immediate future. A group of baseball fans/investors is in the process of creating a mini-wonder world of famous and iconic major league parks for the youth of America to play in.
The parks, which will be called The Ballparks Of America will be two thirds scale renditions of some of the most famous and beautiful fields in America, both current and those long gone. Each field will feature a Players Village which will be approximately a thousand feet in square footage and be capable of providing bunkspace for fourteen players. There will be private bathrooms and showers for the players and the coaches will have their own semi-private bedrooms suites. This is being designed to look like a major league clubhouse and locker room, and will have a lounge area with a bug screen TV and a gaming console.
In addition to the off hour areas, there will be practice areas complete with bullpen mounds and batting cages for our youth to take advantage of.
The parks chosen for this incredible complex include ones I have always wanted to visit yet never have due to the distance and cost involved. Some are no longer standing and are only available in dreams of fields. The list includes Busch Stadium (Go Cardinals!), Wrigley Field (Boo Cubs!), Tiger Stadium, Fenway Park and even Ebbets Field. As stated, each will be roughly 2/3 in size relative to the real deal and will be something young players will remember all of their life.
Artificial turf will allow for play to continue throughout the season regardless of rain or sun and will feature covered dugouts, bullpen areas and even stadium lighting for those night games.
One thing I applaud the creators of the complex in is their decision to have competition be as close as possible. They explain which tournament to get into and how it is based on your current win/loss record, whether you have a traveling team or just a team of kids from your hometown. No one will be over-matched and therefore all games should be very competitive in nature. So anyone can come and enjoy some friendly competition or maybe even stack yourself against the best there are in America.
Food will be available or you can bring coolers inside the parks to lower costs. And speaking of costs...
ADMISSION TO THE PARKS IS FREE!!!!
Yes, it will cost you nothing to come and enjoy these games! Find a better deal than that if you can!
The Brooklyn Dodgers began play in Ebbets in 1913 and the stadium had a capacity of 23,000 in its heyday. Demolished in 1960, it was home to "dem bums" until their move West to L.A. in 1958.
The exterior was a beautiful grouping of brick archways surrounding the park and featuring an 80 foot rotunda made of Italian marble. There was also a covered double decked grandstand which extended all the way from the right field foul pole, behind home plate and continuing up the third base side of the field.
Ebbets has the distinction of being the home to one Jack Roosevelt (Jackie) Robinson. On April 15, 1947 he made history by becoming the first African American man to play professional baseball in the Major Leagues. His number 42 has been retired from baseball as a remembrance of his struggles, and those of all persons of color in entering the mainstream of professional sports. Ebbets Field was his home for the duration of his playing days with the Dodgers.
Tiger Stadium was the home for the Tigers for nearly a full century and even though the original is gone, "The Corner" remains in the hearts of Tiger faithful to this day. The new stadium in Branson will combine features from both the original Tiger Stadium and the new one into a unique blend for the visitor.
Play began in the old stadium in 1912 and continued until the end of the season in 1999. One of the wonderful expansion projects on the old field included the double decked right field stands which actually hung out over the playing field by ten feet. Some seats had columns which obstructed the view but these became part of the atmosphere and weren't as much a hindrance as charming to the old guard. Another "charming" feature of the old field was the flagpole which was actually located in the field of play in center field.
Will players know those who came before them? Will they feel the ghosts of Ty Cobb or Kirk Gibson patrolling the outfield? Will Alan Tramell stand beside them at shortstop? Could Hank Greenberg or Miguel Cabrera shadow them at first base? Maybe a Schoolboy Rowe or Denny McClain firing fastball after fastball into the mitts of Mickey Cochrane or Ivan Rodriguez?
What can be said about Fenway? The Green Monster dominates the left field landscape and here in Branson the young left fielders will learn how to play the caroms off the giant wall just like the Splendid Splinter himself, Ted Williams, or Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice or Manny "Just Being Manny" Ramirez.
Rivaling only Wrigley as "The Classic Baseball Field" Fenway has some of the most unique outfield fences in the game. From the 37 foot tall Green Monster to the odd corners in center to the short porch in right, this field is a challenge. Who among you wouldn't have jumped at a chance to play here as a teenager?
Now the oldest major league park in use it remains full of the old world charm that has stood the test of time and now Branson will beckon the youth of the country here to venture out onto the green grass of a miniature Fenway Park.
Could a youngster toe the rubber and become the next Pedro Martinez, striking out batter after batter while making them look foolish in their attempts?
I can see in my minds eye a young catcher, game on the line hitting a shot down the left field line, watching as it travels closer and closer to the foul pole, waving his arms frantically to force the ball to stay fair then jumping for joy much like the original Pudge, Carlton Fisk did in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series. Memories made, memories savored.
Imagine yourself, 12 years old and patrolling the outfield of Wrigley; contending with the ivy covered walls for a hit into the gap, trying to grab hold of the baseball and keep a double from becoming a triple. Many consider this to be the ultimate classic and iconic park in the world of baseball, its only contender being Fenway.
While the wind may not play as much a part as in the Windy City, this park will be one kids of all ages desire to play on. Everyone knows Wrigley and again the old world charm will play to young and old alike. Parents who played as a child will become children again as they walk their children and grandchildren onto the green playing field on this mini Wrigley. Right fielders will become The Hawk, Andre Dawson as they patrol the field. Shortstops will become rocket armed Shawon Dunston; perhaps there will be a revival of the "Tinkers to Evers to Chance" as a double play is turned. Perhaps some pitcher will believe they are Lee Smith closing out a game, or Bruce Sutter even. Maybe a young Greg Maddox will toe the rubber or a Hack Wilson step into the box, ready to crush a home run. There could even be a Ryne Sandberg there to make a diving stop at second and fire it to first for the out. But if I were to step on that field as a young player, I would want to channel Mr. Cubs Ernie Banks and say "Let's Play Two!".
If one lives in Missouri, one is either a Cardinal fan or a Royal fan. Judging from the attendance records set in St Louis, one must understand there are more Cardinal fans than Royal fans around here. And so it is that Busch Stadium will be the premier field in Branson, its centerpiece.
Built to a 2/3 size of the current Busch III and featuring a miniature Gateway Arch beyond the right field wall, Busch will play home to some incredibly lucky youths beginning this year.
Built to hold roughly 2,000 lucky fans, this Busch will pay homage to its inspiration by remaining close to the design and feel of the larger Busch.
Youths lucky enough to play on the field may bring to mind such greats as Stan The Man, or Vince Coleman; maybe a pitcher will channel Bob Gibson or Dizzy Dean. Will some shortstop run onto the field for the first time and perform a backflip, arriving in perfect position to field a ground ball a la the Wizard of Oz, Ozzie Smith? Perhaps current favorites like Matt Carpenter, Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright will haunt the clubhouse and field, moving alongside you next generation of players.
All I can say is that I am unbelievably excited to have this complex completed and see some fantastic games full of energy and youthful enthusiasm in the immediate future. Memories will be haunting me of games gone away even as new memories will be made watching tomorrows stars as they parade onto the field. To watch the awe in their faces as they walk onto these fields and see it become something more as they join the list of those who have stood where they stood.
Games begin July 2 and continue nonstop through the end of August. If you are in the area, come on down and enjoy some games with me. If you're not, maybe a getaway should be in the works for you.