With as much anticipation as the premiere of a Hollywood blockbuster, Big League Dreams rolled out the carpet – literally – for its customers in North Texas recently, with the debut of Shaw Sportex Artificial Turf at Big League Dreams in Mansfield.
“This turf is absolutely amazing; I love it,” said Will Smith, who plays league ball three nights a week at the complex. “You get true hops in the infield, low impact when running, and no sliding on concrete. It really is a lot of fun.”
Fun may be an ancillary benefit of the new playing surface, but was not the primary purpose. Protection from Mother Nature is what the complex was seeking.
Big League Dreams in Mansfield features eight fields on a sprawling 40-acre site in southern Tarrant County. When the complex was being built, there were multiple construction delays due primarily to weather – an omen of things to come.
There are many great things about Mansfield, which is a suburb of Dallas-Fort Worth. In 2009, CNN/Money Magazine rated it one of the “Best Places to Live,” ranking 24th out of the top 100 American cities. But with all its shiny attractions also comes often turbulent weather. To make matters worse, the native heavy silt/clay mixture that was used for the infields was not conducive to proper draining. The combination produced ponds of water after a storm that could sit for days at a time before the fields could be playable.
According to Steve Navarro, who manages the Big League Dreams Mansfield complex, weather was their worst enemy. “As little as a half-inch of rain could put us down for three days, then just before we would get ready to play again another rain would come and start the process all over. It was maddening.”
The end result was postponement or cancel¬lation of many league and tournament games. BLD-Mansfield lost 1,210 games to weather in 2009 and another 1,054 in 2010. For league play, the postponement of games meant fewer sessions could be completed in a calendar year.
“The seasons dragged out so long, that some of our regular teams would take off a season after one finished,” said Navarro. “One Friday night league had 11 consecutive rainouts. That’s all about to change. Now, if teams want to avoid rainouts they should give us a shot.”
For tournament operators, the result of rainouts can be even more damaging. The complex is booked 52 weeks a year, so there is no postponing a tour¬nament until the next weekend. It is simply gone. And that is just part of the equation. It has been estimated that up to 40 percenat of the adult slow-pitch tournaments at BLD-Mansfield are comprised of out-of-market teams. When those teams travel into town, stay in hotel rooms on Friday night, then have the tournament cancelled without so much as getting to play a single game, they leave angry vowing never to return, then go home and discourage others from their areas from traveling to the complex.
The new turf should make weather-related losses a thing of the past.
Big League Dreams in League City, Texas, which opened in 2006 and is located in a Gulf Coast area that receives almost twice as much rain as the DFW Metroplex, already has artificial turf infields. That park only had two rainouts last year. On one of those occasions the fields were playable, but the streets surrounding the complex were flooded making it impossible for cars to get to the parking lot.
“We will be able to handle several inches of rain and be able to resume play in a short amount of time with very little maintenance,” said Navarro. “When turf was being installed at our park in Redding (Calif.), I was standing on one of the turf fields after a heavy summer storm passed through and the field was ready for play. I looked over at the next field, which had not yet had turf installed, and the infield looked like a lake. That’s the difference.”
No other park in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex will be able to offer that luxury.
“We’re trying to get the confidence back up among players, parents and coaches that if they sign up with us, they’re going to be able to play ball,” said Big League Dreams President Jeff Odekirk.
The park will also have a much cleaner appear¬ance for its visitors, as there will be no more tracking of mud in the walkways and restaurants. And with the dirt infields gone, the sandy dust that was caused from the frequent high winds in North Texas will also be a thing of the past.
“The infields will always be in perfect condition now, regardless of the weather conditions,” said Odekirk. “The players are going to love it.”
Toby Bradshaw who pitches for a top North Texas tournament team, expects better plays from the defense behind him.
“Maybe now our middle-infielder and second-baseman can make some plays,” said Bradshaw after playing his first game on the new turf. “Last weekend at (another park), they were getting bad hops off their chests all tournament long. With this surface, there’s no excuse for not making every play clean now.”
Big League Dreams in Mansfield features eight playing fields that are used for both adult slow-pitch softball and youth baseball. Each of the eight fields is a replica of a current or former Major League ballpark, such as Yankee Stadium, Wrigley Field, Fenway Park (complete with a “Green Monster”) and of course Rangers Ballpark, among others. There is also a multi-sport covered pavilion, two Stadium Club climate-controlled restaurants/ sports bars both with multiple televisions; several batting cages with an instructional area; a chil¬dren’s playground; and an administration office and maintenance facility.
Also, sharing the same parking lot with Big League Dreams is a Hawaiian Falls Waterpark, which is great for children and wives to enjoy while dad is playing ball.
For those wanting to visit the softball mecca, adult slow-pitch and youth baseball tournaments are held year-round at Big League Dreams, which is conve¬niently located 15 minutes south of DFW Airport. At a USSSA Winter National held in January this year, a team from Chicago drove 17 hours (one way) to play at the park, and was so impressed they vowed to return. A complete list of tournaments is available on their website www.BigLeagueDreams.com.
The United States Specialty Sports Association (USSSA), headquartered in Osceola County, Florida, USSSA is the World's Largest Multi-sport Athletic Organization. Founded in 1968, USSSA has grown to over 3.7 million participants, competing in 13 nationally sanctioned sports including Baseball, Fastpitch, Slow Pitch, Karate, Basketball, Soccer and more! For more information on USSSA and to register your team visit USSSA.com. Also be sure to visit USSSAToday.com for the latest USSSA News!