“If you build it, he will come.”
Mysterious voice heard by Kevin Costner’s character in the 1989 film “Field of Dreams.”
There were no mysterious voices heard when Jeff Battcher got the idea baseball could be a catalyst for change in a neighborhood. He’s lived it. The idea wasn’t original, not for this neighborhood or many others. The seeds of Battcher’s “Field of Dreams” had been planted years ago, nursed and cared for by his Little League Coach Vernon Sinclair. Now he’s helping spread those seeds at Tom Fontaine Field. That’s where District 5 of the Macon Little League plays ball, right beside Matilda Hartley Elementary School.
But an episode of his dream and those of the children who will soon pursue their own flights of imagination are about to move from fantasy to reality.
What does the Bibb County Board of Education, the Macon-Bibb County Commission, United Way, Boys & Girls Club, Major League Baseball and the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation have in common? Of course they have some obvious synergies. They all deal with children in a big way.
No need to state the obvious about the school board and the Boys & Girls Club, but maybe a bit of explanation is needed about the other groups.
Many of the agencies United Way funds serve children — from Boy Scouts to Big Brothers Big Sisters. United Way also funds a number of educational initiatives. Obviously, this community feels these services are important, because the money is raised right here in Middle Georgia.
While the Macon-Bibb County Commission is the area’s governmental entity, it supervises recreation for the entire county and has been at the forefront of the largest rebuild of recreational infrastructure in the county’s history using special purpose local option sales tax money.
The Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation’s mission is to impact youth and it works in a variety of ways. You might remember Cal Ripken Jr. If you don’t, do not pass go and head straight to Cooperstown, New York. There you’ll see his plaque along with the other 316 inductees in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
One of the major thrusts of the foundation is to create the fields where dreams are made. The foundation, with community partners, have created multipurpose athletic fields from Oregon to Virginia. One park developed in Greenville, North Carolina is aptly named the Sarah Vaughn Field of Dreams.
How does Major League Baseball fit into all of this? Normally RBI is the acronym for the statistic “Runs Batted In,” but in this case, its MLB’s “Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities” program and that’s where Battcher comes in. He brought the RBI program to Macon.
How’s it doing? Year 1, the Macon team was one of only four selected to attend the All Star Week in Cincinnati. How cool was that?
Year 2, Central High School softball standout and team captain Sascha Norman received a $20,000 scholarship from the RBI program which will help defray her college costs. This year Macon was one of the few teams selected to play a tournament in SunTrust Park, the new home of the Atlanta Braves.
The biggest news that involves all of the entities will have a lasting impact. The school board, county commission, Boys & Girls Club and United Way cobbled together $750,000 to help develop an athletic field behind Hartley Elementary.
The Carl Ripken Sr. Foundation kicked in another $750,000. Do the math, that’s $1.5 million to create Hartley Field where children can live out their dreams of baseball, softball, soccer and lacrosse. The field will feature a movable pitcher’s mound, bases and layout. And it was announced Thursday that football field marking in the outfield will be added to the initial plans.
What’s the next step? This one should be a no-brainer. This new $1.5 million multipurpose Astroturf field is going to sit almost directly across Anthony Road from Brad Henderson Memorial Stadium.
It’s no secret that Henderson Stadium needs work. Major work. Some would say implode it and start over. That may or may not be a bad idea, but the county should develop a plan with an eye toward replacing or remodeling the stadium.
While the county owns the stadium, there is nothing that prevents it from partnering with the school system, the primary user of the facility, to design a better one that would more fit the needs of the community than what has graced the old landfill for decades. Battcher has already proven that if you build it, they will come. Now is not the time to be satisfied with fulfilling one dream, but use that success to create the will to bring another to reality.