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Palm Beach Post (Florida)

 

When Palm Beach Gardens is finished spending roughly $3.5 million to improve its youth baseball complex, the facility will be rivaled only by surrounding Major League Baseball spring training stadiums.

Palm Beach Gardens staff looked to Roger Dean Stadium, the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches and JetBlue Park in Fort Myers for ideas as they planned the ballfield expansion at Gardens Park on Burns Road.

The city will spend about $2.5 million of sales-tax money on two new baseball fields, a batting and pitching practice area and a covered practice area that will be primarily used by the Palm Beach Gardens Youth Athletic Association, which is not formally affiliated with the city.

The city is also spending about $1 million to add more effective shade structures over the bleachers and create a permanent scoring structure around the concession stand on the north side.

Construction on the expansion won't begin until the Gardens North County District Park, which will house all the soccer fields, is completed next fall, said Cory Wilder, parks and grounds operations manager. The expansion will take about a year to complete, he said.

The city's plans call for an agility field outfitted with synthetic turf. The field is similar to an infield with an extended area for calisthenics, Wilder said.

"This is going to be a state-of-the-art facility for our residents," he said.

With a covered bullpen and batting cage, teams will have fewer practices rained out, he and Deputy Leisure Services Administrator Daniel Prieto said.

Roughly 550 children play baseball in the spring and fall, and about 140 play on the summer all-star teams, PBGYAA President Tony Badala said.

Steel shade structures over the bleachers provide better protection from the sun and rain, and they'll cover more people, Prieto said. The new structures are larger, and will also shelter people who can't climb the bleachers or choose to sit in their folding chairs instead.

The fabric shade structures that preceded them only went so far, Prieto said.

"A day like today, we would be getting absolutely blasted by the sun," he said on a hot, humid afternoon.

The city is creating a scoring booth and catwalk above the concession stand to meet Cal Ripken Baseball requirements that it have a second-story scoring structure to host tournaments. In 2016 when the city hosted the World Series, it brought in scaffolding above the dugouts.

"It served the purpose, but it was very inefficient, expensive and temporary," Prieto said.

The expanded complex will make tournament coordinators more likely to pick Palm Beach Gardens to host future World Series, Badala said.

Hosting summer tournaments attracts families who patronize hotels, restaurants and stores during the slowest months of the year -- and Palm Beach Gardens children are guaranteed the opportunity to play as the hosts, even if they miss the cut, Badala said.

"People are jealous from outside communities of what we have built here. It's truly a diamond as far as what we have to offer these kids," he said.

More parking is also in the works, as the city plans to extend Johnson Dairy Road to the north side of the fields. Current limitations prevented the city from hosting baseball and soccer tournaments on the same day. The sports fields also share parking with the Gardens GreenMarket during the season.

"This will alleviate that, which will ultimately be a better experience for all residents," Prieto said.

speters@pbpost.com Twitter: @Speters09

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