USA Baseball Gets Its Field Of Dreams

CARY, N.C.–A shared vision of USA Baseball, Major League Baseball and the town of Cary is now a reality. The ceremonial ribbon cutting by USA Baseball President Mike Gaski and Cary mayor Ernie McAlister marked the opening of the $11 million USA Baseball National Training Complex, which includes three training field and a main stadium with a full press box and separate suites for scoring, radio and other press members.

During the opening speeches several involved with the development expressed their gratitude for the hours of planning and construction to get the job done.

“When somebody does something for you that you didn’t expect, you’re taken aback,” Paul Seiler, executive director of USA Baseball said as he addressed the fans, players and scouts. “Thank you falls short. Thank you really doesn’t scratch the surface with how we feel with this community.”

The complex sits on 221 acres in Thomas Brooks Park, tucked off of a state highway less than 10 miles from Interstate 40. The main stadium has a capacity of 1,754 and more than 250 can sit on the grass hills down the lines.

Gaski turned his words into a baseball friendly language, saying that the day was a victory. “So many of us here have been involved in baseball our entire lives,” he said. “We have an understanding of what it takes to win. And that’s teamwork, cooperation, help, communication, and various people at various times making significant contributions to create the outcome. This event, this structure probably encapsulates that better than anything I have ever seen before.”

Aside from local fans and scouts, there were 144 high school players and members of 72 host families in attendance for the Tournament of Stars, which moved from Joplin, Mo. this year.

The Tournament of Stars made its Cary debut after the opening ceremonies, providing just a hint of the top-notch competition that will take place there in coming years. Jimmy Lee Solomon, Major League Baseball’s executive vice president of operations, was there to represent MLB and expressed the importance of amateur baseball, stating that it is the “lifeblood of Major League Baseball.”

“This has been a fantastic endeavor to watch this stadium come out of the ground,” Solomon added.

Great Baseball For A Great Location

The facility is located in Thomas Brooks Park on the west side of Cary, approximately 20 miles outside of Raleigh, North Carolina’s state capital. The spectacular playing surface and appearance impressed the college coaches and scouts who turned out for the Tournament of Stars. Gaski was quick to point out its prestige and says the athletes deserve it.

“It’s big league,” he said. “These kids are big league prospects and they need to be on this type of playing environment.”

USA Baseball has been based in North Carolina (specifically Durham Bulls Athletic Park) since 2003 but hasn’t had a permanent home for its teams until the construction of the National Training Complex. Its new home is Cary, a growing Raleigh suburb with more than 120,000 residents, and that suburban sprawl is evident with all the construction surrounding Thomas Brooks Park.

McAlister was excited over the opening and is looking forward to the growth of the baseball programs and relationship with his town. “It’s an opportunity for us to develop more of a relationship with USA Baseball and with Major League Baseball,” McAlister said. “The economic development opportunity for us is huge. As you can see today, people from all over the nation came in here for this tournament.”

Mayor McAlister also noted the importance of having a community that knows the benefits the complex will bring and also enjoys baseball. “What you have in Cary is a committed council that understands the value of having first class facilities and is willing to make that investment,” he said. “It’s an exciting time for us. It brings a national spotlight to Cary.”

Looking To The Future

The game of baseball has seen a lot of growth in recent years. The addition of the World Baseball Classic created an even bigger international stage, and international governing bodies such as USA Baseball are doing all they can to get baseball–which will be pushed off the Olympic schedule after the 2008 Games in Beijing–back on the docket. Members of USA Baseball and MLB see this opening only a first, but important, step.

“This facility as you can see is second to none,” Solomon said. “Our relationship with USA Baseball, we feel, will further allow USA baseball to spread its tentacles all across the country and ultimately in competition around the world. We want to put our best foot forward on our junior teams, national teams, Olympic teams and any other teams that go into other countries to play, and I think this is a tremendous start.”

The next vote for Olympic involvement comes in 2009 and Seiler says these organizations are working to better educate the committees on baseball’s potential.

Also down the road is potential for more tournaments and competition. Planners are looking into having national amateur championships, college tournaments and even professional events. Gaski said the complex has significant potential as a host site.

“You’re going to see more programming, more and more events,” he said. “I think you’re going to see national championships being played here for different youth groups. I think you’re going to see college tournaments here. I’ve already talked to a couple of college coaches about in February and March hosting some college tournaments as well. You’re going to see some international events and you’re going to see big leaguers here eventually. As our relationship with MLB continues to change and we get big leaguers playing in more and more events, this will be a training center for them to bring the team together. You have to bring them somewhere and why not here.”