The economically challenged Sulphur Springs district of Tampa got a boost today with the announcement that the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation is going to invest in the neighborhood, with the Baltimore-based nonprofit working with the city to build a million-dollar baseball/softball field at the Springhill Park Community Center.
"This will be one more place that the young people who live here in Sulphur Springs can come to with adult supervision, with good role models, away from the dangers of the city, away from the drug dealers, away from the broken homes, and they can come here and can become little kids," said Mayor Bob Buckhorn, adding that this is the latest positive development in an area that had been "teetering on the precipice" for years until recently.
The current baseball diamond will be completely revamped with an all-weather, low maintenance synthetic turf surface, with new dugouts, scoreboard backstop, and bleachers to be used for youth baseball and softball groups. The price to do this is approximately $1 million, with the city and the Ripken Foundation sharing the costs.
Steve Salem, president of the Foundation, said the group will start looking for donations to raise $500,000 immediately. The organization was named after the late baseball legend who was manager of the Baltimore Orioles and father of Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. (and his less well-known brother and fellow Oriole Billy Ripken). It has built 34 such sports fields since 2010, and will have a total of 50 up and running (including this facility) by next June.
Salem said it typically takes approximately 3-6 months to gather the funding that his organization needs to build a field, he hopes to break ground in Sulphur Springs in March, with the facility ready for action by June.
"None of this is about baseball," Salem said about his organization's mission. "[Cal] Ripken was a great baseball player. That's just the hook, just trying to give these kids a safe place to play, anything they want to play."
Salem said the Ripken Foundation has built all its parks in areas like Sulphur Springs, where there are gang members, drug dealers and prostitution present, but few areas where young inner city kids can play.
"What we've found is that if you bring the right people together, no matter where you are, you can really change the trajectory of their lives," Salem said.
The new field will be built by FIELDS, Inc., a sports field developer that in addition to working with the Ripken Foundation, has also done work with several NFL and MLB teams, including the Green Bay Packers, Dallas Cowboys and Seattle Mariners.
If you'd like to donate to the program, you can go to the Ripken Foundation website, or contact the city of Tampa.