A ball­park in just 4 months: MLB builds Fort Bragg field

San Francisco Chronicle - - BASEBALL -

FORT BRAGG, N.C. — A weed-in­fested golf course at Fort Bragg has bloomed into a ma­jor-league-qual­ity base­ball field on the vast U.S. Army post.

The fin­ish­ing touches are be­ing put on the ball­park where the Atlanta Braves and Mi­ami Mar­lins will play Sun­day. The salute-the-troops game will cap an am­bi­tious four-month project to cre­ate the temporary ball­park from scratch.

“I couldn’t be hap­pier with the progress that the team has made,” said Mur­ray Cook, MLB’s long­time field con­sul­tant and the point man for the con­struc­tion of this field.

“We’re right there. We’ve got all our grass in. We’ve got all our seats in,” he added. “All that’s left is just de­tails.”

Bring­ing big-league base­ball to Fort Bragg, for what’s be­lieved to be the first reg­u­larsea­son game played at a mil­i­tary in­stal­la­tion, came with a unique set of chal­lenges.

Chief among them was cre­at­ing the field and con­struct­ing the temporary 12,500-seat ball­park that will sur­round it.

“I think the biggest chal­lenge is the most ob­vi­ous one — which is, we started out with a piece of ground that was part of an aban­doned golf course, and you can’t re­ally start from much more scratch than that,” said Joe Gara­gi­ola Jr., a senior vice pres­i­dent for Ma­jor League Base­ball. “And so the chal­lenge was to iden­tify and then ex­e­cute all the el­e­ments that go into mak­ing a ma­jor­league field.”

The site of the old Wil­low Lakes golf course has been buzzing with near-con­stant ac­tiv­ity ever since the game was an­nounced in March.

Eric Hill, chief of the re­cre­ation di­vi­sion of Fort Bragg’s Direc­torate of Fam­ily and Morale, Wel­fare and Re­cre­ation, said the project has been “pro­gress­ing on sched­ule, on a very tight sched­ule.”

The first chunks of Char­lotte-grown Ber­muda grass sod were laid in early May and the rest of the field was down by May 23, Cook said. He pointed out that 6-8 feet of soil was moved to cre­ate the proper grad­ing, a drainage sys­tem that will re­move 8-10 inches of wa­ter per hour was in­stalled and USGA-cal­iber sand was spread out for the sod to take root. Then the temporary seat­ing, fol­low­ing a blue­print by sports-ar­chi­tec­tural-de­sign firm Pop­u­lous, was built around the field.

A few less ob­vi­ous de­tails are still be­ing han­dled.

Cook said they must in­stall the nets in the bat­ting tun­nels and place pads on the walls and fences. Soon, all that’ll be left will be stock­ing the dugouts and club­houses with wa­ter bot­tles and other sup­plies for the play­ers.

“You re­ally sort of sit down and think about, ‘OK, what are all the el­e­ments that go into play­ing a ma­jor-league base­ball game?’ ” Gara­gi­ola said. “Many of which you take for granted.”

In­stant re­play will be han­dled on site, Gara­gi­ola said. When a play is un­der re­view, the um­pires still will put on the head­sets — but they’ll talk to a re­play of­fi­cial in the op­er­a­tions cen­ter at the ball­park, not to head­quar­ters in New York.

The grounds crew will con­sist of 36 vol­un­teers from Fort Bragg and a few “sea­soned vets” from mi­nor-league teams and other es­tab­lished ball­parks in the South­east, said Cook, who is in charge of teach­ing the crew how to prop­erly, and quickly, un­roll the tarp in case of rain.

Af­ter the game, the site will be con­verted into soft­ball and mul­ti­pur­pose recre­ational fields for those on the base, Hill said. The foul poles, dugouts and bullpens will re­main, along with the play­ing sur­face.

The idea to bring a game to Fort Bragg came from a re­tired Air Force gen­eral, Hill said. MLB de­vel­oped the con­cept and fil­tered the plans through the Pen­tagon and a se­ries of of­fi­cials at the post be­fore they “even­tu­ally wound up on my desk,” Hill said.

“They wanted to do some­thing to give back to the mil­i­tary,” he said.

Gara­gi­ola said Fort Bragg — home of the 82nd Air­borne Di­vi­sion — was cho­sen be­cause of its large num­ber of sol­diers and be­cause of North Carolina’s ties to the sport, which date back to 1902 with the cre­ation of the Durham Tobac­conists, the pre­cur­sor to the Durham Bulls, who were pop­u­lar­ized in the 1988 film, “Bull Durham.” Co­in­ci­den­tally, both the Mar­lins (Greens­boro) and Braves (Ze­bu­lon) have mi­nor­league teams near the in­stal­la­tion.

The lo­gis­tics lined up, too. The teams will play Saturday af­ter­noon in Atlanta. The Braves will be the home team at Fort Bragg and both clubs have man­age­able travel to af­ter­noon games Mon­day, with the Mar­lins vis­it­ing the New York Mets and the Braves at Philadelphia.

“I’ve been for­tu­nate enough to be in a lot of ball­parks for a lot of big events,” Gara­gi­ola said, “but I can’t imag­ine and I’m so ex­cited for what the at­mos­phere is go­ing to be like on that Sun­day night.”

“I’ve been for­tu­nate enough to be in a lot of ball­parks for a lot of big events, but I can’t imag­ine and I’m so ex­cited for what the at­mos­phere is go­ing to be like on that Sun­day night.” Joe Gara­gi­ola Jr., MLB senior vice pres­i­dent

Pho­tos by Gerry Broome / As­so­ci­ated Press

Work con­tin­ued Thurs­day to in­stall a base­ball field at Fort Bragg, N.C. The Braves and Mar­lins will play a salute-the-troops game at Fort Bragg on Sun­day.

Here’s how the field looked April 20. Con­trac­tors built a big-league base­ball field from scratch.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.