Reds, Procter & Gamble rehab community field
Cincy, Joe Morgan renovate pitch, facilities in neighborhood of Avondale
CINCINNATI -- The baseball diamond tucked behind the Hirsch Recreation Center in the Cincinnati neighborhood of Avondale used to have a service road running right through the field. There was no fence, as the outfield just kept going, down a hill and toward the trees in the distance.
That's all changed now.
For the fourth consecutive year, the Reds Community Fund joined forces with Procter & Gamble North American Marketing to renovate a community's Little League fields and assist in other projects. This year, the chosen neighborhood was Avondale.
Where the road used to be, new grass has been put in place. There's dugouts, bleachers and a manually-operated scoreboard out in right field.
Perhaps most important, according to lifelong Avondale resident Ozie Davis III, a fence now surrounds the entire outfield. In this inner-city neighborhood, that fence gives the young people something to aim for.
"We know there's a dearth of African Americans in Major League Baseball," Davis said. "That home run fence, it will move African Americans here back to the baseball field. Because I'm trying to hit a home run."
Communities in Cincinnati and the surrounding area have lobbied each year since 2010 to receive a makeover courtesy of the Reds and Procter & Gamble. Davis, who has lived on the same street for all 48 years of his life, is also the Executive Director of the Avondale Comprehensive Development Corporation. He wrote the grant asking for the renovations in his neighborhood, and he was overwhelmed on Thursday when more than 300 volunteers from Procter & Gamble, the Reds, the Cincinnati Zoo and the Cincinnati Children's Hospital gathered in Avondale, which is about five miles from Great American Ball Park, to help complete the project that started in the spring.
"For me, it's surreal that the kid from down the street could have this kind of impact on the community," Davis said. "It's humbling and awful rewarding."
The baseball fields -- a smaller diamond was also fixed up -- were only part of the equation. Various other renovations were made in Avondale on Thursday and throughout the week, including a new and improved farmer's market at Gabriel's Place, where people can buy locally-grown products. That's a welcomed addition, according to Davis, as the options for healthy food and groceries in Avondale are limited.
Former Reds second baseman and Hall of Famer Joe Morgan was on hand for the ribbon cutting in front of the farmer's market and caught a ceremonial first pitch from a local Little Leaguer on the baseball field. He's been actively involved with the Reds in helping to grow the game of baseball in Cincinnati, and he was a key player in bringing the soon-to-be-constructed Urban Youth Academy to the city.
He recognizes that the just-completed work in Avondale went beyond the game.
"This is far more than baseball," Morgan said. "This is kind of a cultural change. There's a farmer's market -- they're growing their own fruits and vegetables. This is just an addition to what they've been trying to do here all the time. I think it's great."
Still, baseball was at the heart of the transformation, and Morgan echoed Davis' desire for more young people to be involved in the game. He also said it was important for him to use himself as an example to help the children of Avondale understand the benefits of baseball.
"Every time I see a baseball field go up, I think it gives a kid a chance to go out and play for the Reds or play Major League Baseball," Morgan said. "That's important to me from that perspective. More than that, baseball teaches you about life, responsibility, dedication and so forth. Everything you learn playing baseball helps you in the other walks of life."
Davis had to look no further than his 14-year-old son, who he said was ecstatic about the new field, to see how baseball can bring positive energy to both an individual and the community as a whole.
As he sat in the Hirsch Recreation Center -- almost 12 hours after arriving at 6 a.m. on Thursday to lend a hand in any way he could -- Davis talked with a friend about how more work needs to be done in the neighborhood he loves. His gratitude for what had already taken place showed through as he told someone else nearby that he had spent much of Thursday fighting back tears.
"It will take more than bricks and mortar to change a community, but I think the opportunity is now there for those of us that live here," Davis said. "Those of us that are working to develop change in the neighborhood, I think this project presents the opportunity that wasn't there yesterday.
"This is much more than enough. For people to care that much about what was first a project, and then as the day went on, you could feel people's passion start to come into this place -- for me it was absolutely incredible."