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Tampa and Cal Ripken foundation to create $1M synthetic-turf baseball field in Sulphur Springs

TAMPA — City Hall on Thursday unveiled a $1 million partnership with the nonprofit Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation to create a synthetic-turf youth baseball field in Sulphur Springs.

The city has pledged $500,000 toward the new field at Spring­hill Park Community Center south of Busch Boulevard, with the other half coming from the foundation.

Established by Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr.'s family, the organization has built 34 youth development parks in poor neighborhoods. "These kids do not have a safe place to play outside in neighborhood after neighborhood across the country," foundation president Steve Salem said.

But "when you bring the right group of people together, no matter where you are, it can really change the trajectory of their lives," he said. "We set out to build the nicest park these kids are ever going to have the opportunity to play on, regardless of where they go in life."

The foundation's newest field is in Hartford, Conn., but its first was in Baltimore, where the parks director was Greg Bayor. He brought the idea to Tampa when Mayor Bob Buckhorn hired him as the city's parks and recreation director in 2012.

"He has harangued me for three years," Buckhorn said. "I kept telling him, 'No, we don't have the money. No, we don't have the money.' Finally, I said, 'Greg, I think we've got the money.' "

The foundation plans to begin what it hopes will be a three- to six-month campaign in Tampa to raise its $500,000 contribution to the project.

"If we don't raise it, we're going to contribute it out of our operating resources," Salem said.

It aims to begin construction in March so the new field can be ready by the summer. In addition to the new turf, the field will have new dugouts, a relocated scoreboard and bleachers.

Once it's open, the foundation says it will stay involved with clinics and character education programs, including "Badges for Baseball," which teams law enforcement mentors with at-risk youngsters.

For Tampa, the field will bring one more asset to a neighborhood that Buckhorn said was "teetering on the precipice."

In the past several years, the city has bulldozed dozens of vacant, abandoned houses in Sulphur Springs and hired contractors to build new homes on the empty lots. It also has added police patrols, code enforcement officers, trash pickup sweeps and new streetlights.

But Buckhorn said what Sulphur Springs still needs is opportunities for kids.

"This will be one more place that the young people who live here in Sulphur Springs will have to come to with adult supervision, with good role models, away from the dangers of the streets, away from the drug dealers, away from the broken homes," he said. "They can come here and be little kids and learn the value of athletics."

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