Park expansion fields open for play

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By Jesse Osbourne

A massive project came to fruition for the city and county last week as the first pitch was tossed at the new expansion baseball fields at Graham Memorial Park.

Lebanon Mayor Gary Crenshaw fired the first pitch off at the new fields Monday of last week and was followed by a pitch from Roscoe, the mascot for the Bowling Green Hot Rods minor league baseball team.

The new fields, three total, are bigger than the previous fields. According to Matthew Mattingly, park activities director at Graham Memorial Park. The old parks were 200 feet all the way around. The new fields are 210 feet down the left and right field lines and 225 feet down center field.

The new fields are already earning their keep as they helped Graham Memorial Park land the Little League district and state tournaments for 2011. Each year, a different district gets the chance to host the state tournament and the district administrator picks the location within the district. Marion County got the nod for next year.

With six fields total, there is plenty of space to play games and host practices for teams waiting to play.

Despite opening Monday, the expansion area is not complete.

Mattingly said when the project is finished, park patrons won't ever have to leave black top to get to a field. Mattingly wasn't sure of the timetable for completion of the black top. The city service crew and Nally & Haydon are doing work on the project.

Fences are also going to be extended in front of the bleachers on the left and right field lines. The bleachers were moved there later in the project and are exposed to mishandled throws or foul balls. Crenshaw told Mattingly on Monday that he would like to see the fences extended as soon as possible.

Mattingly said the fences will be extended to the height of the dugouts. Quotes have been received for the work, Mattingly is now waiting for the go ahead to begin the extension.

Black windbreakers will also be put up behind the plate to keep patrons away from the umpires. In the past, heckling has been a problem.

"It's hard enough to get umpires already. If you put them in that situation it's even harder," Mattingly said.

The new fields have yet to be named after a person or corporate sponsor. Money and labor for the project has been provided for by the city. The county also contributed up to $100,000 as well.

After the expansion is complete, Graham Memorial Park will feature six baseball fields, six soccer fields and a Frisbee golf course. The park sits on 105 acres.

Mattingly didn't have a timetable for completion of the project but he estimated that the total cost of the expansion was over one million dollars. He said having the city service crew complete a large portion of the labor saved a lot of money.