The smell of freshly cut grass. The radiance of home plate prior to first pitch. And the newly minted foul lines enclosing it all. Ever since baseball's birth, the fields on which the game is played have been the subject of dreams for writers and fans alike.
But there's more to the tale than aesthetics. For so many, the baseball diamond represents hope.
And with a cap tip to the continued generosity of the Scotts Field Refurbishment Program -- co-operated by The Scotts Company and MLB -- four new communities will benefit from such hope for quite some time.
After careful consideration, Allentown School District and Lehigh Valley RBI Baseball (Pa.), the city of Wewoka, Okla., the Friends of Ray School (Chicago) and Friends of Mount Vernon Arts, Recreation and Youth Programs, Inc. (N.Y.) were announced as this year's field-refurbishment recipients back in May, bringing the total renovations during the life of the initiative to an impressive 24. Across the four projects in 2019, more than $200,000 in repairs and upgrades were made during the spring and summer months.
The selection progress was tough, to say the least, as MLB and Scotts received 350 grant applications from more than 300 cities in 46 states. Making the final call was a blue-ribbon panel that included Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr., six-time MLB All-Star and 2008 World Series champion Chase Utley, former USA Softball Olympic gold medalist and current MLB youth softball ambassador Jennie Finch, 1997 World Series champion and MLB Network analyst Cliff Floyd, plus executive leadership from MLB and Scotts.
It's been easy to see the positive impact of the Scotts Field Refurbishment Program. For countless children, a new field represents a door opened to limitless possibility.
"Scotts does a great job of finding fields that need a little love and brings the kids outside, which I am all for," said Utley during the "Opening Day" of the Lehigh Valley field in June. "I grew up outdoors all the time, having the ability to go to beautiful parks. That kind of shaped how I grew up as a kid and helped navigate my path to playing in the big leagues."
Melanie LeGrande, MLB's vice president of social responsibility, looks forward to continuing the program given its success.
"The fact that we've received 700 applications over the past two years is a great testament to what people need, and also what people want," LeGrande said. "The fact that we can bring quality and safe places to play for kids, great grass like Scotts brings to us as [MLB's] Official Lawn Care Company, that's a treat for us. So I want the program to continue. I want communities to keep asking. I want to be able to support communities as best we can."
For Finch, who was on hand at the Chicago ribbon-cutting ceremony in September, the refurbishment program is all about ensuring that today's youth stay active and grow into tomorrow's healthy adults.
"I know firsthand what sports can do, and as a mother of three, it is so exciting to be able to give to the community like this, and see young kids outside, active and excited about baseball and softball," Finch said.
"For these young kids, I just want them to take advantage of this field, and the beauty of it. I think seeing how first-class it is gives them a glimpse of dreams and what can become of [them]. It is exciting to know that these kids can come out to play baseball on a quality field and have memories that will last forever."
At Lion's Field in rural Wewoka during August, a community with nearly 10,000 kids was bestowed the chance to play ball in style, a gift that will continue to give according to the town's mayor, Paige Sheffield.
"Wewoka is so honored to have this grant awarded to our community. We have so many children that are very underprivileged that were in need of a new baseball field," Sheffield said.
"Kids seeing a wonderful facility to come to every day is just more enticing and exciting to be a part of the game," said Destinee Martinez, an alumna of USA Softball and the University of Oklahoma, where she was part of the powerhouse program's 2013 NCAA national championship. "They just created a whole new path for these kids to succeed and continue on with this game, and hopefully fall more in love with it after being given a beautiful facility."
The field-upgrade program is part of Scotts’ efforts as an official partner of the PLAY BALL initiative, MLB’s collective effort to encourage young people and communities to participate in baseball- or softball-related activities, including formal leagues, events and casual forms of play, such as stick ball.