A sparkling gem of a ballpark that will honor our nation's military with a visit from America's pastime this weekend has been constructed from the ground up in a few short months, and it is ready for the Fourth of July spotlight.
Fort Bragg Field was announced Thursday as the official name of the venue that will bring Major League Baseball to the nation's largest military installation of the same name, leaving a legacy for its soldiers and their families. The pristine new ballpark is down to the final touches before its debut amid a perfectly patriotic backdrop.
The ballpark at the sprawling North Carolina army base will be christened Sunday night (on ESPN, 8 ET), when the Atlanta Braves and the Miami Marlins meet in the Fort Bragg Game -- the first regular-season contest of any professional sport ever played on an active U.S. military base. This unique show of support for the military will go beyond the thrill of MLB competition for one night, as the field will become part of a sports complex for the base's soldiers and their families.
It's a concept that was first announced by MLB and the MLB Players Association in March, and a mere four months later, a ballpark has been built as a lasting tribute to honor the nation's military for their service.
"Everything is starting to feel real," Fort Bragg spokesperson Christina Douglas said. "They really have built this entire event and this beautiful venue to honor the military, and we're so appreciative for everything they're doing."
After groundbreaking in March, laying out the field in April and planting sod in time to provide the setting for this weekend's game, the field has become a reality right there at Fort Bragg, home to 10 percent of the U.S. Army and some 250,000 people in all, including families, civilians and retirees.
Recent developments at Fort Bragg Field included the installation of a padded wall featuring logos for the Fort Bragg Game, the U.S. Army and for each of the units based at Fort Bragg, such as 18th Airborne Corps and the U.S. Army Special Operations Command.
"That really brings it all home, bridging the military with baseball and what we have ahead of us," Douglas said. "The soldiers are going to be able to go to this game and see their organization represented on that outfield wall."
Murray Cook, MLB's field consultant who has traveled the globe preparing venues for Major League play, hasn't had an experience quite like this. Working with soldiers to train them to roll out tarps, for instance, has been a unique quality of this particular project.
"We had 12 PFCs, a few combat engineers, a few Rangers," Cook said. "They were all so excited to be part of it."
Cook said the soldiers have been there ready to pick pebbles out of the warning track or load sand, do whatever it is they need to do. There will be a crew of soldiers who will drag the infield after the third and sixth innings of the game as in any other MLB contest, Cook said. Suffice to say, this will be a military exercise unlike any other in baseball history.
"It makes you proud that we've been able to build something to say thanks," said Cook, who says local Minor League clubs will be participating and are among many entities that have been more than accommodating in the construction process.
The ballfield, with a seating capacity of 12,500, will be up to Major League standards for the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball stage. It is situated on what used to be part of the Willow Lakes Golf Course, which closed with the merging of Fort Bragg and adjacent Pope Air Base. Now it's a unique venue meshing baseball and the military like never before.
Along with the soldiers who are part of the grounds crew for this unique event, Cook has been working with members of the base's Morale, Welfare and Recreation team that will take care of the multiuse facility as it serves the Fort Bragg community for years to come.
In recent weeks, the base has undertaken the monumental process of distributing the relatively limited amount of tickets to service members and others on the installation, and aspiring ballplayers are registering for a youth clinic. With an annual Fourth of July celebration expected to draw 40,000 to the base on Monday, this will be a three-day holiday like no other Fort Bragg has ever seen.
"It's going to be a fantastic weekend," Douglas said.
Fort Bragg Field's dimensions are 331 feet down the lines, 387 feet in the alleys and 405 to center. It has 100,000 square feet of 419 Bermuda Turfgrass, 8,000 tons of drainage gravel and sand, 400 tons of warning-track mixx, and 250 tons of infield clay.
With MLB-caliber wall padding and foul poles around a field ready for the Braves and the Marlins to meet between the lines, Fort Bragg Field is ready for MLB action.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. You can follow him on Twitter @JohnSchlegelMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.