By Gerald Dlubala
This spring, when the umpire yells out the familiar, “Play ball!” it will mean opening day for many youth baseball programs with kids on the field and parents filling aluminum bleachers. It will also mean the opening of many new, exciting, all-inclusive sports complexes.
Popping up everywhere, these new mega-complexes are no longer related to the days of the old baseball diamond laid out in a local park or field that just happened to have enough room.
And the term “youth sports” has slickly been transformed into “youth sports tourism”, the fastest growing segment in the travel industry.
With sports complexes being built and furnished costing millions of dollars, these venues are not only built for the kids, but they are being designed with the parents and any other travelers in mind as well.
They are now considered destination venues, not just a place to go for your child’s next tournament baseball games.
These venues are being located with in-between game downtime and family spare time in mind. As any travelling sports parent can tell you, there is a fair amount of time spent just hanging out or waiting in between games, tournaments or because of schedule changes.
Design and development firms such as The Sports Facilities Advisory in Clearwater, Florida, went from just a couple of calls a day about sports development projects back in 2003 to now receiving daily calls about projects up to and exceeding $150 million.
One of the innovators of these family-friendly, multi-use youth sports venues and destinations is hall-of-famer and retired baseball player Cal Ripken Jr., along with his brother Bill, another famous professional baseball player. (The Park Catalog sells aluminum bleachers to Ripken facilities).
Ripken Baseball’s Leidos Field, at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen, Maryland, is home to four youth-sized replica stadiums and one full-size replica of Yankee Stadium. It is considered one of the most expansive youth sports venues to offer pro-level experiences to the participants while also offering a space for public and private parties, corporate events, and even weddings.
The newest Ripken venture is their $22.5 million dollar Pigeon Forge complex, scenically resting in the Smokey Mountains of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Conveniently, in the same town as Dollywood.
This complex, scheduled to open with a ribbon cutting March 9 features six lighted, synthetic turf fields designed with features borrowed from professional ballparks such as Camden Yards in Baltimore. There’s an incomparable list of amenities, such as playgrounds and patios plus shaded rest areas, outdoor dining and amphitheater settings.
Their “clubhouse” will be a two-story 14,000 square foot building with incredible views of the Great Smoky Mountains. Shelters, picnic areas, and a huge general outdoor area provide plenty of free space for families and their kids to work off extra energy and enjoy their free time away from scheduled activities. The inaugural tournaments start March 12-13.
Missouri-based Ballparks of Americas is in the process of being able to host weeklong tournaments this summer at their new five-field venue, conveniently close to the Branson, Missouri area, allowing families to plan and enjoy vacation type activities along with their child’s corresponding baseball tournaments. They offer several “replica” stadiums that resemble famous ballparks such as Fenway Park or Wrigley Field.
All of those features have got to make a youngster feel like a major-league player.
Aluminum bleachers offer many options for this type of venue
A challenge in operating venues of this size is always how to accommodate the continuous influx of guests and make them comfortable while they are at your facility. Seating becomes a priority, whether it’s at a ball game, relaxing in between games, grabbing a bite to eat, or just enjoying the day out near a picnic area with friends and family.
While there are a wide range of seating options, some specifically tailored to specific areas, one of the most economical and efficient ways to bring seating capacity to a venue is through the use of aluminum bleachers. Bleachers are a logical choice for several reasons.
- Placement isn’t a worry because of the various sizes and capacities available to order. From completely portable to permanent installation, there are aluminum bleacher sizes and designs to fit the event and the area.
- Quality and Ease of Maintenance. Aluminum is tough, and able to be designed, manufactured, and supported for all your needs. Maintenance generally consists of component inspections. Yearly inspections are recommended, and if needed, replacement parts are easy to locate and install.
- Portability and Weight Advantage. When additional seating is needed, portable aluminum bleachers are an economical way to add necessary seating to accommodate guests. With the ability to move this seating arrangement around on an as-needed basis, there is never a worry of being short in event seating for your guests.
- With no need to worry about weather or environmental issues, there is no need to repaint due to peeling or replace wood due to splintering or rot. Plastic seating can fade in constant exposure to the sun and elements, quickly becoming aesthetically unappealing. But aluminum bleachers will retain their appearance with minimal attention.
- Safety – like any product used by the public, there are safety concerns. Here are some of the construction requirements provided by the International Code Council.
The Ripken Experience – Pigeon Forge facility realizes that bleachers are the best option for their venue, and makes excellent use of aluminum bleacher seating throughout the entire facility.
Each of their six replica fields are lined along the first base line and the third base line with aluminum bleachers for families, friends and spectators to watch and cheer their future all stars. Aluminum bleachers provide a way for the fans, team parents and families to watch, sit, turn and move around to easily interact and enjoy the event. Spectators have an option to sit down low, at field level, or take a few steps up to a higher view.
The Pigeon Forge facility has also installed bleachers behind home plate, adjacent to press boxes in another versatile, unique way to incorporate bleachers into a venue to provide quality seating and viewing.
If you’re looking for safety, durability, longevity and value in strong, seating that can be customized for your guests and patrons, look no further than the aluminum bleacher. Additionally, safety features such as the non-conductive quality of aluminum, combined with its weight to strength qualities, proves to be a winning combination for a cost effective way to provide quality seating for fans.
These new, high-end, replicas of major league ball fields with complimentary family facilities are knocking it out of the park when it comes to attracting crowds.