FORT BRAGG, N.C. -- Major League Baseball spent the last four months turning the overgrown, weed-ridden, rutted old Willow Lakes golf course on United States Army installation Fort Bragg into a 12,500-seat gem of a baseball stadium. Their efforts culminated on Sunday night, when the Marlins beat the Braves, 5-2, in the first regular-season professional contest of any sport to be played on an active military base.
"When I got here today and saw the field for the first time in person, I was just blown away by the quality of the field itself, the playing surface, the quality of the scoreboard and just the overall appeal of the facility," said MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred. "It is really beyond what I expected."
The field measures 331 feet down the lines, 387 feet in the alleys and 405 feet to dead-center. MLB used materials from several local vendors to complete construction of the field, including 100,000 square feet of 419 Bermuda Turfgrass Sod from Carolina Green in Charlotte, N.C.; 8,000 tons of drainage gravel and USGA sand from Bulk Aggregate in Fayetteville, N.C.; and wall padding, foul poles, backstop net and batting tunnels from PROmats in Salisbury, N.C. They also used 400 tons of warning-track mix from Bulldog Fields in Virginia and 250 tons of infield clay from DuraEdge in Pennsylvania.
Caring for the field was a grounds crew consisting of 36 volunteers from Fort Bragg and a few veteran groundskeepers from Minor League teams and other established ballparks in the Southeast, all under the guidance of MLB field consultant Murray Cook. The veteran groundskeepers were in charge of teaching the volunteer crew to quickly and safely unroll the field tarps in case of rain. With steady rain all afternoon in Fayetteville on Sunday, and a few periods of heavy downpour, that new skill set came in handy.
But what happens to the new stadium after the main event? For starters, seating will be removed, but the playing surface, along with the foul poles, dugouts and bullpens, will remain. There are plans to convert the site into softball and multipurpose recreational facilities for use of those on the base.
The gift of the field is especially meaningful because the base has lost more than 20 recreational fields since 2006 due to construction. With more than 3,000 recreational softball players making up more than 110 unit-league teams on Fort Bragg, the extra fields will be put to good use.
"Not only is this field going to stay here for the use of the base, but there will be a bigger project around it to provide more opportunities for servicemen and women to participate in all sorts of athletic activities," Manfred said. "I think that's a great result."
Lindsay Berra is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.