Ripken Foundation To Back 5 Ballparks In City

Working With Community Groups, The Swing For The Future Campaign Plans To Build First At Old Memorial Stadium Site

July 31, 2009|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

A foundation run by Cal Ripken Jr. and his family plans an estimated $6 million project to build five state-of-the-art youth ballparks in distressed Baltimore neighborhoods - including one at the old Memorial Stadium site that would resemble the former ballpark's field.

The Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation's Swing for the Future campaign envisions turning the little-used field at the redeveloped Stadium Place on 33rd Street into a multipurpose, artificial turf sports complex with a running track and exercise stations.

Foundation officials, working with community partners, are raising money for that $1.5 million complex, the flagship project, and for a $1 million multipurpose field in Park Heights near Pimlico Race Course. Three other sites will be chosen as well, in East Baltimore, West Baltimore and one other city location. No deadlines for sites' selection have been set.

Each will be run by a community group, allow at-risk kids to play baseball, football and other sports, and offer some of the foundation's baseball-themed, character-building programs.

"The goal is to give kids a safe and wonderful place to play and be together," Ripken said Wednesday in an e-mail through a spokesman. "Sports is just a hook to get us in front of kids and give us the chance to help teach them valuable life lessons."

The first park at Stadium Place, now home to a Y of Central Maryland branch and senior housing, could get under way early next year in a partnership with the Y. The second, in Park Heights, through a partnership with the Boys and Girls Club of Metropolitan Baltimore and the city's Department of Recreation and Parks, is in the early planning stage and likely wouldn't be built until 2011.

The "youth development parks," to be built by the foundation and turned over to community partners, could serve as a model for a concept the foundation hopes eventually to roll out nationally, said Steve Salem, executive director of the Baltimore-based foundation.

"It would give kids a safe place to play, whether competitive sports" or other physical fitness and character-building activities, Salem said. "It's a basic need that's lacking in so many of these communities. That's a gap we're trying to help fill."

The timing of the parks depends on the success of the fundraising. The plans for Swing for the Future got started before the economy tanked, making achieving goals that much more challenging, foundation officials said.

Already, plans to start with the Memorial Stadium site this fall and follow with one new park per year are likely to be delayed by a year, with the Stadium Place project more likely to start in the spring and take about six months to complete.

Ripken, who helps run the foundation named for his father, has been personally involved in the campaign, with both the Orioles Hall of Famer and his brother, former Oriole Bill Ripken, working on field design and fundraising, said John Maroon, a foundation spokesman. Both Ripkens serve as honorary co-chairs on Swing for the Future's campaign committee, which is chaired by state Sen. Francis X. Kelly. The Ripkens are joined as honorary co-chairs by two other well-known Baltimore sports figures - Orioles Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson and former Baltimore Colt Art Donovan.

The group has raised about half of the $1.5 million needed for construction and some programming funds for the Stadium Place site. The Y, which owns the land, would run the park, which will resemble a youth-size version of Memorial Stadium's field, Salem said.

"Home plate will be the exact location of home plate at Memorial Stadium," he said.

The facility will incorporate space for youth educational programs such as those run by the foundation that "use the life lessons of Cal Ripken Sr., like perseverance, loyalty and personal responsibility," Salem said. The project will also feature a playground and a walking and running track for use by the community and help address a shortage of playing fields, he said. All Swing for the Future fields will be built with artificial surfaces that can be used for multiple sports.

Outside investments in neighborhoods tend to have the most impact when local community groups play a key role, said Elizabeth Nix, director of community studies and civic engagement at the University of Baltimore.

In the case of the Ripken foundation's plans, "it sounds like they're partnering with people who have deep roots in the communities already and are stepping in and filling in some areas that municipal funds aren't filling anymore," Nix said. "If you have youth exercising and doing team sports and are redeveloping land in areas that really need redevelopment, and are doing it with community input, that sounds smart."

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