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Friday, August 28, 2009

Baseball gets boost in Cedar Rapids

Perfect Game Staff        
The city of Cedar Rapids, still recovering from the Flood of 2008, took a major step toward providing more baseball opportunities for the community Friday with a groundbreaking ceremony for a $170,000 project at Jones Park on the southwest side of town.

The project includes one new regulation baseball field, one refurbished regulation diamond and a refurbished youth baseball field on park grounds. The project took shape with a $75,000 matching grant from the Baseball Tomorrow Fund, which is dedicated to promoting the growth of youth baseball and softball throughout the world.

Perfect Game USA contributed a significant donation for the project, part of the company’s ongoing effort to promote youth baseball in the community.

“We want to develop a love of baseball for all kids, especially those who lack the financial ability to participate.” said Perfect Game President Jerry Ford. “We can provide instruction, equipment and encouragement for kids, and this project gives them a great place to practice and play games. With the help of Al Smith of the Kernels and the local schools, we plan to identify those young kids that will benefit the most. Our core business is finding and evaluating talent, but this project is more geared towards our belief that baseball fans are more important than baseball players. We might find a few players along the way, but the goal is to give every deserving youngster in our community a positive baseball experience.”

Several baseball fields in Cedar Rapids were damaged by the Flood of 2008. The project at Jones Park will help replace those fields. The city of Cedar Rapids made an in-kind donation of $25,000, but all other monies were raised from donations and grants. Cedar Rapids Mayor Kay Halloran called it a “fantastic project.”

“I’m sure we’re going to enjoy this facility a lot. Everybody,” said Halloran.

Work has already begun at Jones Park. All three fields are scheduled to be ready in the spring of 2010.

Benjamin Cafardo from the Baseball Tomorrow Fund presented the city with an oversized replica check for $75,000 at the ceremony. He noted that the Baseball Tomorrow Fund is a joint venture of Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association. The Baseball Tomorrow program, celebrating its 10th anniversary, has made more than 400 grants of nearly $16 million to programs in the United States, Canada, Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe and Asia.

Pat O’Conner, the president of Minor League Baseball, also spoke at Friday’s ceremony and reminded the audience that a major part of the Baseball Tomorrow money comes from major league players, who often get bashed in the media for being selfish and self-centered. “They do have a heart,” said O’Conner. “They don’t like to advertise it sometimes, but they do have a heart.”

O’Conner congratulated the city of Cedar Rapids for “getting back on its feet” following last year’s flood. A year ago, Minor League Charities made a $25,000 donation to the city’s flood relief program, money that was earmarked for the Boys and Girls Club of Cedar Rapids.

Gary Koeppel, the president of the Cedar Rapids Kernels Foundation, called the Jones Park project a collaboration of public-minded individuals and groups. The other major contributors, in addition to those mentioned above, are the Aegon Transamerica Foundation, the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation Flood Fund, the Hall Perrine Foundation, the Kernels Foundation, King’s Material Inc., Minor League Baseball Charities, Bill Quinby and Rockwell Collins.

The project planners include the Cedar Rapids Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, Cedar Rapids Community Schools, the Cedar Rapids Kernels, the Kernels Foundation, Cedar Rapids Parks & Recreation, Perfect Game, P.L.A.Y. in Linn County, and Positive Sports Training.

Julie Sina, the director of the Cedar Rapids Parks & Recreation Department, called it a “momentous day” for the city. “Once it’s done, this park is doing to be a diamond for the community,” she said.
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