MADISON — Ever since Madison Mayor Paul Finley announced the building of a new concept at Town Madison called Pro Player Park, it provoked visions of a stylized Ernest Lawrence Thayer: Then from five thousand throats and more there rose a lusty yell; It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell; It pounded on the mountain and recoiled upon the flat, For Finley, mighty Finley was advancing to the bat.
Now we know Finley’s statement, which came in January’s State of the City Address, will bring a much happier result for local residents than those of Mudville!
The $12 million Pro Player Park project is supported solely by private investment and consists of 12 synthetic baseball/softball fields – six championship size and the other six are configured so the fences can be pulled in to accommodate softball. The project also includes batting cages, a pro shop, a small café and vending area, and an indoor soccer field. Statistics show that Pro Player Park should generate about 300,000 visitors a year, which yields about 40,000 room nights per year.
Currently more than halfway through the design phase, the Breland Properties project is situated in Town Madison on the old Intergraph campus. They will break ground in late spring or early summer with expectations for opening about the same time as the Trash Pandas’ stadium next spring. The first year will be a soft opening year before shooting for home runs in 2021.
“Pro Player Park was not conceived alongside the acquisition of the Rocket City Trash Pandas or their new stadium,” said Joey Ceci, president of Breland Properties. “However, once that project was underway, one of our associates here at Breland, whose son is involved in tournament travel ball, complained that he was always having to drive somewhere else on weekends to watch his son play in these regional tournaments.
“He noted that he was spending his money in all these different locations that did not have any of the attractions and accommodations available in Huntsville. We saw an opportunity to fill that void.”
Ceci said Pro Player Park has undergone more than six months of rigorous due diligence, market feasibility studies, and they have had dozens of serious discussions among all the appropriate people including Mark McCarter, convention sales manager at the Huntsville/Madison Convention & Visitors Bureau, and Huntsville Sports Commission Executive Director Ralph Stone. They are both excited about it because it opens up baseball and softball tournament opportunities the city of Huntsville has never had the facilities to support.
Furthermore, they consulted with one of their partners, Tim Dulin, who has built similar facilities to Pro Player Park and has contacts with travel ball teams as a coach and a mentor. He is already working with McCarter to start pitching Huntsville for these types of tournaments, and to get on their schedules for when the park opens.
“Both travel baseball and softball are increasing in popularity, but there has always been a hole in this region for having the facilities to support them,” said Ceci. “The traveling tournament teams we are looking at are primarily regional or at least within driving distance, but some of the championship series could bring in people from Puerto Rico and Latin America where baseball is a very popular sport, as well as all over the U.S. at some point.
“Because the fields are synthetic – that is, the dirt and the grass are synthetic – they are more or less plug-and-play and can even be configured to support lacrosse,” Ceci said. “These teams can’t really afford rainouts so, with synthetic fields, when the rain is over, you don’t have a soggy field or muddy infield to worry about because they drain quickly, and therefore play can resume relatively quickly.”
Ceci said the closest similar facilities are in Southaven, Miss.; Memphis and Atlanta.
“Nashville gets some teams, but they don’t have a single facility where they play the entire week,” said Ceci. “They use a variety of high school fields, some which are not very high quality, and they are spread out all over Nashville. For instance, they may play a game in Gallatin one day, a game in Brentwood the next day, and a third game in downtown Nashville. The logistics are difficult.”
He said these teams really come with the intent of playing high-caliber, competitive ball and they like to play in places where there are likely to be major league and college scouts on-hand to see their kids play.
“There is nowhere where the logistics make sense for pro and college scouts who may want to watch a potential catcher play in Smyrna while another player they are interested in is playing across town at the same time in downtown Nashville,” he said.
“The way Pro Player Park will be designed, we will be able to situate scout towers adjacent to four fields at a time, so they can watch players on all four fields from a single location.”
There are hundreds of travel teams who begin the season in late February/early March and run through October. During school, they play these tournaments mostly on weekends but, when school lets out, they may play for three to five days.
“It’s a great generator for us from a business point of view and as a developer, it’s another great project,” Ceci said. “For several days at a time, you will have visitors spending money shopping at Town Madison or Bridge Street; dining; renting hotel rooms; attending ballgames; and visiting our attractions like the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. That is quite the attractive package.”