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For Good

For Good: Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation to build new ball park in Sulphur Springs

The Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation is making a big play in Sulphur Springs. With City of Tampa support, the nonprofit will build a world-class ball park at Springhill Park Community Center.

The existing field will be transformed into a Youth Development Center with synthetic turf, new dugouts, a scoreboard backstop, a portable pitching mound and bleachers. The new facility will be open to children citywide who play baseball, softball, lacrosse and soccer.

"We are out to build the nicest park these kids will ever see," says Steve Salem, president of the foundation named for the father of Hall of Fame baseball player Cal Ripken Jr. "Hopefully by summer this park will be filled with kids."

In addition to sports, health and physical education will be featured along with programs on culture, history and character development. Badges for Baseball will pair children with local law enforcement officers as coaches and mentors to at-risk youth.

The city of Tampa will fund $500,000 of the $1 million cost. Foundation representatives will launch a local fund-raising campaign to make up the difference. Fields Inc., which has built facilities for professional sports teams such as the Denver Broncos, Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Twins, is expected to break ground on the park in March 2015.

The foundation plans to build 50 parks around the country within five years. To date 34 parks have been completed including the first in Baltimore at Memorial Field. At the time Greg Bayor, Tampa's parks and recreation director, was working in the same capacity for the city of Baltimore.

Since moving to Tampa three years ago, Bayor has been "haranguing" him for the city to partner with the foundation, but until now the city didn't have the funds, says Mayor Bob Buckhorn. 

Last year Cal Ripken Jr. got a look at the Springhill Park ball field when he hosted a baseball clinic for the Boys & Girls Club. Bayor says the foundation thought the site was a good candidate for a new park.

Sulphur Springs has been a neighborhood struggling with blight, drugs and criminal behavior and "was teetering on the precipice," says Buckhorn. "But for an intervention this is a neighborhood that would have died. It would have been overrun with bad influences, with drugs, with gangs and guns and violence. A lot of people stepped up to the plate to try and do something about it."

The Neighborhood of Promise initiative is a coalition of nonprofits, agencies and area residents brought together by the Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA. Collectively, they provide social services, educational programs and mentoring for the children in Sulphur Springs.

The new park and the ongoing association with Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation will be one more positive influence for the neighborhood, Buckhorn says.

"They can come here and be little kids and learn the value of athletics," he says.

Read more articles by Kathy Steele.

Kathy Steele is a feature writer and editor at 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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