By Amanda Yeager | Read online at Bizjournals.com/Baltimore
Cal Ripken, Jr. goes to a lot of groundbreakings. Tuesday, he was in Curtis Bay for yet another.
The former Orioles player and baseball Hall of Famer donned a white construction hat and grabbed a shovel to pose for photos as he joined with local business, philanthropic and political leaders to mark the start of construction on an athletic field for nearby Benjamin Franklin High School at Masonville Cove.
The Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation, a nonprofit Ripken founded with brother Bill Ripken and named after their father, partnered with the CSX Foundation, a charity managed by the railroad company, on the project.
The better part, Ripken said, comes afterwards, “when all the pomp and circumstance is gone.”
“Some of these areas are really transformed,” he said. “We didn’t really see that as a goal, but it’s a wonderful bonus.”
Since launching its “Swing for the Future” campaign eight years ago, the Ripken Foundation has built 68 athletic fields for communities in 19 states across the country and will be finished with two more within the next couple of weeks, according to foundation President Steve Salem.
Seven of those parks are in the Baltimore region, including the first one the foundation ever built, on the former site of Memorial Stadium, the Orioles’ home for 37 years. Three more local fields, including the one in Curtis Bay, are on their way.
The organization surpassed its goal of building 50 fields in five years a year early and has dozens more in the works, including a plan to break ground on 20 athletic parks in Oklahoma City in the future, Salem said.
Though the foundation started out chasing donors during the recession years, it now has project proposals coming its way, according to Ripken.
“Success then bred to more success,” he said.
In Curtis Bay, the new field will be the home of the Benjamin Franklin Bayhawks, a team without its own athletic turf. The $2.7 million project is sponsored by CSX, which donated $2.5 million for its construction, and a grant from the Baltimore Regional Neighborhood Initiative will pay for lighting at the park. The site will include a multipurpose, high school regulation-sized football/soccer field with fully synthetic turf that can be used by the high school and the surrounding community.
The site of the future field is about a mile and a half away from CSX’s Curtis Bay coal piers, where the company transfers coal shipments between trains and ships.
The field, to be named CSX Field at Baybrook Park, will take about four months to complete. Salem said he’s hopeful it will be ready by January.
For years, students have played sports in the back of the school and sports teams have scrambled to find space to practice, said Dante De Tablan, the executive director of the Ben Franklin Center for Community Schools, which manages programs and services at the high school.
“Wherever there was an open field is where they went,” he said.
Recently, the high school has nearly doubled in size, from 226 students in 2011 to about 500 today, said Principal Chris Battaglia. In that time, the school has seen improvements to its SAT scores and attendance, and now has a waiting list of prospective students.
Elsewhere in the city, the Ripken Foundation has broken ground on a park at Mosher Elementary School in West Baltimore’s Bridgeview/Greenlawn neighborhood and is working on obtaining permits for a field at Frederick Douglass High School, near Mondawmin Mall.
As the foundation continues to build fields, Ripken said he also wants to make sure none of them get left behind. Completed parks are owned by the community, but the foundation tries to host one or two programs at each of its fields a year. It also pays for uniforms and equipment for local teams.
“I’ve done quite a few groundbreaking ceremonies and ribbon-cutting ceremonies, and they all remind you why we’re doing this,” he said. “We want to make sure that the programming stays there and we’re truly helping kids with these outdoor classrooms.”