MLB among those helping to restore Mayer baseball field to its glory

Cheryl Hartz/Special to the Courier With cracked concrete and broken benches, the weed-covered baseball field below Mayer’s red brick school building on Main Street is on its way to once again becoming the community’s activity hub .

A Baseball for Tomorrow Fund grant from the Major League Baseball Players Association and MLB provides $88,143.56 for artificial turf, fencing and infield materials.

“It would have been impossible for this impoverished area to build a facility of its own,” Mayer District Superintendent Dean Slaga said of the nearly $300,000 project. “Mayer Unified School District will have a state-of-the-art Little League field for both baseball and softball, and not just a field but a nice complex.”

Slaga pointed out the artificial surface not only provides year-round use, but also supports Mayer’s water conservation program.

“The district attempted to dig wells, but we can’t get more water,” Slaga said. “The only option to make this fly was artificial turf.”

Fence posts already are in place, but official groundbreaking takes place at 11 a.m. on Thursday, Aug. 30.

Slaga invites one and all to share in the celebration. He expects officials from Major League Baseball and the Arizona Diamondbacks to attend.

The superintendent credits Mayer Elementary Principal Patti Leonard for initiating the project. She in turn credits retired Air Force Colonel Jim Murray with making it happen.

Murray said it started when Leonard mentioned to his wife, Terri McComb, an MUSD English teacher, emails she received concerning grant possibilities.

“Patti’s vision was to build a ‘Field of Dreams’ and Terri asked if I was interested,” Murray said.

Murray’s online research showed only two available grants, including the Arizona Diamondbacks’ offering, which allows for one field per year. Previously, the Baseball for Tomorrow grant topped out at $39,000, but Murray said the foundation just had lifted the cap when Leonard began to get more pointed emails in July about the grant application.

In his grant process research, Murray discovered more than 6,400 girls and boys ages 6-12 reside within a 25-mile radius of Mayer. That provided him necessary impetus to apply.

“It will develop kids both physically and mentally,” Murray said, adding, “Being partners with Major League Baseball has its benefits, too. We’ll be able to host clinics for coaches and umpires, as well as players, from all around the area.”

Furthermore, Murray called the grant “perpetual.”

“If we show the benefits, MLB may provide more (money),” he said.

With $200,000 worth of in-kind donations from community members and businesses from as far as Tucson, the project should be complete by mid-October.

“Without companies such as American Fence and Pioneer Sand and Gravel providing materials and like-in-kind donations, we wouldn’t be able to do this,” Murray said.

Slaga said $20,000 came from the J.W. Kieckhefer and Margaret T. Morris foundations. He also said Big 5 Sporting Goods and car dealerships in the greater Prescott area have expressed interest in becoming major sponsors as well.

The Toro Company already is on board to provide equipment for field maintenance and grooming, and Arizona Public Service will put in dusk-to-dawn lighting for security purposes.

“It’s not enough (light) to play on. We won’t be able to do evening games – yet,” Murray said with a grin.

Once the 32,000-square-foot turf and infield stabilizer are in, they can go ahead with dugouts, terracing for fan seating, weed barriers, concession and bathroom buildings, and eventually, additional landscaping. The school district’s property on the south side of Main Street will become a parking lot, and Slaga assured residents that access to street parking next to the field will be blocked, for safety and practical purposes.

The project’s initiators believe the complex will reunite the community.

“When I came here to teach in 1987, this ball field was the community hub,” Leonard said of the natural amphitheater with a backdrop of mountains and Mayer’s historic smelter.

A quarter of a century later, it will be again.

“It’s going to be unbelievable,” Murray said.

The project still requires about $5,000 in materials for a 15×45-foot storage building, as well as labor help on many aspects.

Anyone wishing to donate time, materials, or money can call Jim Murray at 928-775-7382.

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Posted on August 22, 2012