Major League Baseball is starting an effort this weekend to increase participation in baseball. One necessary ingredient is a suitable playing field.
On Monday, a joint venture between Scotts and Major League Baseball brought Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, Jr., to Ladson, S.C. and Tom Conley Park, beginning a national program involving youth baseball fields across America.
Scotts, the official lawn care company of Major League Baseball since 2010, has launched the official "It's Good Out Here Field Refurbishment Program." Complete field makeovers include new sod on the infield, new fencing, new scoreboards and other needed improvements.
The program will refurbish six fields a year in six Major League markets -- starting in Atlanta Braves country near Charleston, S.C.
"The future of our game is really right here in the youth leagues so it's very important to us," said Jim Allen, vice president for corporate partnerships with Atlanta Braves. "The fact that Major League Baseball wanted to start this program in Braves country means a lot to us."
The Cal Ripken Sr. foundation has been involved in the development of youth-league fields for several years and was an obvious perfect partner for the MLB and Scotts alignment.
"I've always enjoyed the influence I had with the younger guys and when I retired I wanted to help promote the game," Ripken said. "We've been able to do that through the foundation and this is a great opportunity to do that with the Commissioner. We want more kids playing baseball and the first step is giving them a really nice field to play on. We have formed this partnership and I look forward to doing more fields in the future."
Tom Conley Park is part of the Ladson Youth Organization, a volunteer organization formed in the early 1960's designed to give local youth an opportunity to participate in sports. There is no city recreation department to fund the organization, which also hosts leagues in softball, football and basketball.
By luck, through word of mouth and the help of Berkeley County councilman Tommy Newell, who represents the area and has been a long-time volunteer coach, Tom Conley Park became the first national project of the group. The announcement of the new program came on March 29 and work began on Tom Conley's Dixie Youth field the next day.
Clyde King has single-handedly run the leagues and facilities at Tom Conley for more than 30 years, taking care of the fields as well as scheduling of leagues, forming teams and ordering uniforms. King, now 71, has been a volunteer with the LYO since 1969.
"Scotts has been a supporter of Major League Baseball and youth initiatives for the last five years and South Carolina is a very important market for us," said Mike Davitt of Scotts, a division of Scott's Miracle-Gro. "One of the things we looked for was an inspired story and if you talk to Clyde, he's a guy that's perfect for us. For 47 years, he has been totally committed to youth baseball. He is a guy that is perfect for what we want to do with this program."
Ripken, King, Allen and Davitt cut the ribbon to open and dedicate the field for play. With more than $150,000 of improvements, including a newly sodded infield, new fencing surrounding the entire field, and a modern scoreboard to replace the one that had been standing for decades, King could only marvel and thank those involved.
"This is unbelievable what these people have done for us," said King, who has spent the last 20 years since his retirement from civil service as a crossing guard and custodian at nearby Sangaree Elementary School. "I can't express enough our gratitude to Scotts, Major League Baseball and the Braves."
In addition to the renovation of the field, Major League Baseball and the Braves also provided more than $10,000 worth of equipment. The Braves honored King with an authentic team jersey with the No. 47 signifying his years as a volunteer. Major League Baseball also conducted a mini-clinic for youngsters on hand and the event was complete with plenty of food and other activities.
David Shelton is a contributor to MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.