When Ray Kinsella heard the words “If you build it, they will come,” the Iowa farmer plowed through his corn to construct a baseball field.
The 1989 movie Field of Dreams and Kinsella, played by Kevin Costner, left to the imagination what Athletic Services is making a reality at the new spring training facility of the Philadelphia Phillies in Clearwater, FL. The company is transforming 12,000 tons (10,900 t) of rock, stone, clay, greens mix, sand and sod into a modern playing field that will begin hosting training games this upcoming spring.
Contracted by the Phillies organization, Athletic Services started the fieldwork on Aug. 9, 2003. In total, the ballpark project has cost $30 million since it began in October 2002.
Because of heavy rains, Athletic Services removed approximately 2 ft. (0.6 m) of mud in some areas before bringing in materials to construct the field. The inclement weather initially delayed the project, which was slated to begin in late June, by two months. The company is expecting to complete the fieldwork by Feb. 6.
“We had to run the pumps for a couple of days before we could start really working,” said Mike Williams, owner of the Clearwater-based company.
Prior to stadium construction, the site was a trash dump, leading to additional challenges during the project. While excavating, the company had to remove a variety of discarded objects ranging from old appliances to car parts.
Under the grassy outfield area, crews are currently building the ground up a total of 14 in. (35.6 cm), using 4 in. (10.1 cm) of number 89 gravel on the bottom-most level with 10 in. (25.4 cm) of greens and 90/10 sand mixture on top. Athletic Services brought in 150,000 sq. ft. (13,935 sq m) of Tiffway Bermuda sod from Pipe Creek Turf Farm in Georgia. Blue Water Irrigation, Maitland, FL, and Night Owl Irrigation, Clearwater, are installing the field’s irrigation system, and Tom’s Sod Service, Clearwater, installed the sod.
Beneath the infield, crews are laying 4 in. (10.1 cm) of number 89 gravel, 4 in. of white sand and 6 in. (15.2 cm) of clay. Along the outer-edge of the field, Alabama crimson stone is being used for the warning track. The company also is sodding the berm, the sloping grass seating in the outfield.
Athletic Services’ four-person crew is using a fleet of equipment purchased from Bobcat of Tampa Bay to remove the dirt and construct the new playing area. Williams owns two Massey-Ferguson 253 utility tractors, two custom-built hydraulic dump trailers, one Bobcat 873 skid steer with bucket and forks, a Bobcat 743 with a rototiller, one Bobcat T300 –– Williams’ “get ’er done” machine. The company also is renting a John Deere 444 wheel loader and a 322 and 328 mini excavator.
“Bobcat of Tampa Bay’s service has been really good,” noted Williams, who’s been purchasing equipment from the dealership since 1986.
Williams’ rapport with Bobcat of Tampa Bay extends beyond purchasing equipment. He was the first place winner in the dealership’s 2003 equipment rodeo in Tampa, FL, and the 2001 winner in Sarasota, FL.
Athletic Services has constructed ball fields throughout the state. The company’s credentials include the Toronto Blue Jays’ training field in Dunedin, the Texas Rangers’ training field in Port Charlotte, the Miami Dolphins’ Joe Robby Stadium in Miami, and Ben Hill Griffin stadium at the University of Florida in Gainesville.
The Phillies training stadium has a Floridian architectural style and features wide concourses, sloping berm grass seating and approximately 7,000 fixed seats. The ballpark and training facility cover the space at the former Home Depot site on U.S. 19 near Drew Street. More than 1,800 parking spaces will be provided on that site and across Old Coachman Road at the Joe DiMaggio Field complex. With the building of the complex, the Phillies signed a 20-year contract to continue training in Clearwater.