USSSA and Big League Dreams: A mutually beneficial partnership

Millions of people flock to Las Vegas every year hoping to beat the odds.

In January 2010, a new venture opening in the Mojave Desert paradise that is a guaranteed winner – the latest Big League Dreams sports complex.

And USSSA will be right there with them, helping make it a success just like they have many times before.

“We pride ourselves in hosting events at the nicest facili¬ties in the country, and Big League Dreams provides precisely that kind of complex,” said Don DeDonatis, Executive Director and CEO of USSSA. “We work with them day-in and day-out to put on quality events for our customers. The partnership is a win-win situation for everybody. Teams love coming back.”

Big League Dreams is the brainchild of brothers Rick and Jeff Odekirk. Their dream was to build and operate a family recreational facility that would give average youth and adult players an opportunity to have the feel of playing in the big leagues.

“We are very pleased with our working arrangement with USSSA,” said Jeff Odekirk. “They have many high quality tournament directors who put on great events in our parks. With the recent explosion of travel base¬ball, along with girls fast-pitch and of course adult slow-pitch, our company is growing and USSSA has helped with that growth.”

Most of the Big League Dreams complexes host adult slow-pitch softball leagues six nights a week – Sunday through Friday. Those leagues are registered with USSSA, but also incorporate Big League Dreams’ own customized playing rules.

Outside promoters rent the complexes on weekends to host events. It is estimated that USSSA fills 70 percent of the weekend dates at all BLD facilities. In Southern California alone, USSSA Baseball State Director Craig Ciandella fills 80 percent of the four Big League Dreams complexes.

“Craig was the first USSSA Director to rent from us, and it has grown from there,” said Jeff Odekirk. “He does an outstanding job with his tournaments, as do all the USSSA directors. As we continue to grow across the country, we expect USSSA to be there in those cities to help with the growth.”

The admiration is mutual, from the perspective of USSSA directors who rent from Big League Dreams.

“Working with Big League Dreams is great; they have by far the finest facilities out here,” said Stacy Fish, USSSA’s Southern California Fast-pitch State Director. “Their staff is professional and so easy to work with. Everything is ready to go when you get there. They make your job as a tournament director so much easier.”

Fish hosted the 2009 USSSA Girls 16 & Under B and Girls 18 & Under B Fast-pitch World Series at Big League Dreams in West Covina.

“We had 34 teams and everything went just awesome,” said Fish. “Other parks out here have just or two fields. And many of them don’t even have fences. Big League Dreams is a paradise compared to them.”

Big League Dreams is also big in Texas, where complexes in League City (near Houston) and Mansfield (near Dallas-Fort Worth) are the anchors of the Lone Star Shootout State Championship Series.

Steve Navarro, who has been with Big League Dreams from its inception, is currently the general manager at Mansfield where he is assisted by Jeff Smith, Trey Shipman and others.
In League City, the general manager is Scott Sheldon and the sports director is Phyllis Williford, Sheldon was an infielder with the Oakland Athletics (1997) and Texas Rangers (1998-2001), as well as playing with the Orix BlueWave in Japan (2002-2003). On Sept. 6, 2000, Sheldon became only the third player in MLB history to play all nine positions in a single game, joining Bert Campaneris and Cesar Tovar.

With the help of their father, real estate developer Ron Odekirk, Rick and Jeff opened the first Big League Dreams in January 1998 in Cathedral City, California, 120 miles east of Los Angeles. The park was an immediate hit, and many more Big League Dreams parks soon popped up all across the Western U.S.

The Odekirks are a baseball-loving family. Rick and Jeff both played high school and college ball, and Rick even played 11 years of minor league ball in the organizations of the Royals, Athletics, Reds, Rangers, Orioles and Indians. As a left-handed pitcher, he reached as high as the AAA level with the Oklahoma City 89ers (Rangers) in 1988 and Colorado Springs Sky Sox (Indians) in 1989.

When Big League Dreams opens in Las Vegas early next year it will mark the 10th complex nationwide. There are four in Southern California – Cathedral City, Riverside, Chino Hills and West Covina; two in Northern California – Redding and Manteca; two in Texas – League City and Mansfield; and one in Arizona – Gilbert. Other parks are in the planning stages in other cities across the nation.

Ed Farmer will be the general manager of the Las Vegas complex when it opens. Farmer has already opened three Big League Dreams complexes for the company, including Cathedral City, Calif., League City, Texas, and Gilbert, Arizona.

“We want to showcase the property so people can see how magnificent the thing is,” said Farmer. “Cities that have Big League Dreams become known as a sports mecca, with teams are coming from all over simply to play at Big League Dreams.”

The parks bring many benefits to the regions in which they operate. First and foremost is a top-quality playing experience for local families through world-class facilities in a variety of sports. A typical Big League Dreams facility offers baseball, adult slow-pitch softball, girls fast-pitch softball, soccer, indoor soccer, in-line hockey, basketball, flag football and sand volleyball for all ages.

Big League Dreams is best-known for its baseball/softball fields that are designed and built as replicas of famous, historic major league stadiums. Youth and adults can play on a replica of:

• Chicago’s Wrigley Field
• The Bronx’s Yankee Stadium
• Boston’s Fenway Park
• St. Louis’ Sportsmans Park
• New York’s The Polo Grounds
• Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field
• Brooklyn’s Ebbets Fields
• Detroit’s Tiger Stadium
• Cincinnati’s Crosley Field
• Arlington’s Rangers Ballpark

Huge economic benefits are created through multi-use facili¬ties being booked almost every day of the year, more than a year in advance for league play and special events. Examples of past special events include: corporate and group events, national tournaments, local tournaments, concerts, Easter Sunrise services, July 4th celebrations, dog shows, art shows, and many other local and regional events.

In addition, Big League Dreams features two on-site Stadium Club Restaurants that serve everything from beer, to nachos, to pizza, to specialty hamburgers. These climate-controlled restaurants also have multiple televisions so patrons can watch sporting events while enjoying their food and drinks. In the center of each complex are batting cages for players to warm-up in, and covered playgrounds for children.

The Sportsplex Operators and Developers Association (SODA) named the Cathedral City Big League Dreams Sports Park the Best New Sports Complex in America. Sports Illustrated said Big League Dream’s “Replicas of Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park and Wrigley field dazzle weekend warriors.” The Los Angeles Times hailed the scaled-down replica stadiums as “bringing dreams to life.” The Orange County Register said it is a place where “players live out their fantasies.”

Scenes for the film “Benchwarmers” were shot at the Chino Hills park’s scaled down Fenway Field.

All-Stars like Mike Piazza, Randy Johnson and Jason Giambi played the first softball game at the original Big League Dreams park to raise money for charity. However, the replica field concept was designed to give the typical recreational player the chance to live their dreams of playing in the big leagues. Annually, millions of adult softball and youth baseball players flock to the parks to enjoy their favorite sport on fields like the pros use.

By: Greg Hutchinson

About USSSA:

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!