World Baseball Academy baseball complex blooming

A look from behind home plate at one of the fields at the new World Baseball Academy complex at the ASH Centre, 1701 Freeman St. (Photo by Reggie Hayes of news-sentinel.com
World Baseball Academy CEO Caleb Kimmel talks with reporters before the field dedication Tuesday at the ASH Centre. (Photo by Reggie Hayes of news-sentinel.com)
The World Baseball Academy honors donors to the baseball field upgrade on the fence of one of the fields. (Photo by Reggie Hayes of news-sentinel.com)
Homestead High School player Kade Kolpien takes a cut on one of the new World Baseball Academy fields at the ASH Centre. (Photo by Reggie Hayes of news-sentinel.com)
World Baseball Academy participants speak at the field dedication Tuesday. From left, Vincent Garcia, Torren Gonzalez, Kade Kolpien and Kristin Kolpien. (Photo by Reggie Hayes of news-sentinel.com)
The Farmland Jazz Band performs before the dedication of the World Baseball Academy fields on Tuesday at the ASH Centre. (Photo by Reggie Hayes of news-sentinel.com)

Caleb Kimmel’s dream of fields was years in the making, so for him to be taken aback speaks volumes about the (almost) end result.

Kimmel knew what he hoped to see when he began spearheading the World Baseball Academy’s facility transformation at ASH Centre, 1701 Freeman St., in 2013. He knew what beautiful fields would look like. Plush outfield grass, infield turf and great sightlines were part of his vision.

Kimmel, the academy’s CEO, walked the grounds Tuesday for the WBA Field Dedication, and he felt a wave of emotions from being able to reach out and touch his dream.

It’s not done yet, but you can see the complex unfolding, and feel it, too.

“The fields are even nicer than what I anticipated, so I don’t know what I was anticipating,” Kimmel said. “Walking out on those fields for the first time, the wow factor is pretty special for Fort Wayne. It’s very fulfilling.”

The three fields transforming before Fort Wayne’s eyes are part of Phase One of the project, which was originally estimated as a $3.2 million upgrade. That amount has since been bumped up to about $3.5 million, and the WBA has raised about $2.8 million so far, Kimmel said.

The three fields dedicated on Tuesday are capable of hosting games for players from 8 years old to college age. Phase Two will include three more youth-sized and softball-sized fields, and the earth work for those fields was completed as part of Phase One. The WBA still needs more contributions to pay for lights and a pavilion, among other amenities.

Kimmel honored those who have invested and invited four long-time participants of the World Baseball Academy to speak about their experiences. WANE-TV sports director Glenn Marini served as master of ceremonies and participants who spoke included 11-year-old Vincent Garcia, 16-year-old Torren Gonzalez of Wayne High School, 17-year-old Kade Kolpien of Homestead High School, and Kristin Kolpien, Kade’s mother. The Farmland Jazz Band also added some ambiance.

“This is a community project,” Kimmel said. “It is 100-percent funded by the community through foundations, companies and individuals. At this point, there are no public funds. The real reason why this is a success is we are developing youth to be leaders. We’re grateful for the community; This is about a lot more than baseball.”

The dedication ceremony was scheduled as a way to say thank you to supporters and donors and show the community how the project has unfolded.

The WBA complex complements the continued improvements and projects at the ASH Centre, which also houses Optimum Performance Sports (OPS) and is home to the practice facility for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants.

Games will begin on the first three fields next spring, although it hasn’t yet been determined which teams will be the inaugural ones.

“We’ve been really blessed,” Kimmel said. “The grass is taking to the outfield. We’re right on pace for the opening in the spring.”

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