The now fully turf Harold Alfond Mini Fenway Park, the only licensed Fenway replica in Maine, was reopened following renovations on Saturday. Red Sox Hall of Famer Jim Rice threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
"For me, it's a dream come true to be able to help these kids out and get the backing from the Baseball Tomorrow Fund," said Ken Walsh, CEO of the Alfond Youth Center, the only organization in the country that merged a local YMCA and Boys & Girls Club. "It's a really high-class organization that supports the involvement of youth."
The BTF is a joint venture between the Major League Baseball Players Association and Major League Baseball designed to promote the growth of youth baseball and softball throughout the world. It awards grants to support field renovation and construction projects, equipment and uniform purchases, coaches training material and other selected program expenses. Since it began in 1999, the BTF has awarded more than 750 grants worth a total of over $26 million to nonprofit organizations around the world.
The Waterville organization, like all other groups the BTF helps support, had to go through an extensive application process to receive this grant. The BTF receives about 400 applications a year and usually fulfills 10 percent of them.
"The application process is intended to bring out the best and bring out information we need the most," said Elizabeth Maineiro, the grant coordinator for the BTF. "There were many elements of Waterville that fit the criteria."
Some of those criteria include supporting a significant amount of youths, extending the season and introducing more kids to the game. The permanent, raised mound on a grass field didn't allow softball to be played at Mini Fenway, which Walsh always wanted. With turf, the mound can be removed for a flat surface during softball games and practices.
The renovations also allow baseball and softball seasons to go a little longer in Maine, where the weather doesn't cooperate like it does elsewhere in the country. It's also aimed to accommodate the local youth leagues and increase participation -- and will be able to host Babe Ruth-level baseball.
After the ceremony with Rice officially opened the renovated field, a Little League tournament began featuring teams from the New England area.
"We wanted to actually have a tournament around the dedication of the field," Walsh said. "That's why we're all [here]."
In addition to baseball games and camps, the field will be used for several other sports -- including soccer.
For Walsh, though, the construction and renovation of Mini Fenway take him back to his days a child in upstate New York. He and his friends built a field out of a cornfield to play sandlot baseball in 1973. It's chronicled in his book, "Depot Hill Gang."
"My heart has always been in the game," Walsh said, "and for me, to see this project come to completion is extremely thrilling."