Big League Dreams facing big problem with fields - East Valley Tribune: News

Big League Dreams facing big problem with fields

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Posted: Tuesday, August 12, 2008 6:11 pm | Updated: 8:55 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Jason Hubbard was in awe when he first took the field at Big League Dreams.

Slideshow: Big League Dreams: Then and now

Jason Hubbard was in awe when he first took the field at Big League Dreams.

Slideshow: Big League Dreams: Then and now

It was February, and his men's softball team was playing in one of the opening leagues at the Gilbert ballpark.

Click on the map for a larger view
Big League Dreams Sports Park in Gilbert, AZ, Guadalupe Rd., Power Rd., Recker Rd., Higley Rd., Warner Rd., Elliot Rd., Loop 202, Map by Scott Kirchhofer/EAST VALLEY TRIBUNE

At first, he said, the fields were immaculate and the facility was spectacular.

But things have changed.

The grass is dead. The infields are worn out. And Big League Dreams is in serious danger of losing business.

"Honestly, the fields are in (bad) shape," Hubbard said. "We've been there since the start, and it's gone downhill from day one.

"It's like playing in desert - there's more dirt than grass. If they don't get the fields in better condition, we're going to jet," he said.

Hubbard isn't the only person complaining. Far from it.

Since the park opened, Big League Dreams has received several complaints a day about the condition of the fields.

And while the fields are getting worse and the complaints are piling up, town leaders and the park's officials are butting heads to come to a solution.

"There is no question about the complaints," said Ron Odekirk, a Big League Dreams board member. "People are unhappy with what they are playing on, and I don't blame them. I mean, we've been off to a good start, but we have to solve this problem or we will see some people decide to not book their tournaments and come play."

Big League Dreams, at 4536 E. Elliot Road near Power Road, opened in January. It was a $40 million project that features eight ballfields replicating classic stadiums like Wrigley Field, Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park.

Gilbert's ballpark is one of nine properties owned around the country by Big League Dreams, based in Chino Hills, Calif.

It was pitched as a facility that would bring in big events and money for the town. Gilbert will share profits with the park in coming years, and several hotels and restaurants are being planned as a result of early interest.

Big League Dreams representatives and the town have been discussing the condition of the fields for months, and both sides have blamed each other.

Big League Dreams says the contractor hired by the town installed the grass improperly and used materials that were too soft and sandy for infield dirt, leading to slippery conditions and uneven surfaces.

Some town leaders question whether the fields have been properly maintained.

"I'm sure glad I'm not married to (Big League Dreams executives), because they never make a mistake and are never wrong," Gilbert Councilman Don Skousen said. "If something isn't right, they'll say it certainly wasn't them.

"Anyway, we know there is a problem. Whether it was done by their maintenance or our contractor, I don't know," he said. "We have to fix it - no questions about that."

Fixing the problem won't be cheap.

It could cost the town up to $100,000 to redo the grass and infields, adding to the $18 million worth of increases already tacked on to the original project estimates of $22 million.

But regardless of who's at fault and the costs involved, both sides agree that they have to take care of the problem quickly or face the possibility of losing business, teams and tournaments.

It's already too late for Rick Perreault.

Perreault is the president of Top Choice Baseball, which hosts large tournaments around the Valley. He's scaling back the number of events he planned to have at Big League Dreams.

He has a 100-team event set up for Labor Day weekend, but so far, only about 40 teams have committed.

"A lot of teams are saying they don't want to play there," Perreault said. "It's never happened before where teams say that. There's a lot of negatives going around about Big League Dreams, and next year I'm only putting in for a few dates there."

The prices for leagues, teams and players also aren't helping the situation.

Playing leagues at Big League Dreams costs several times the price of a city league. Team fees for tournaments are hundreds more. The park also charges players a $3 entrance fee every time they come to the park.

Big League Dreams was also going to increase many fees in coming months, but they have decided to postpone the increase based on the number of complaints, a move that will cause an estimated $40,000 drop in revenue.

That's the right decision in Doug Stark's opinion.

Stark is a vice president for the United States Specialty Sports Association and one of the top baseball tournament promoters in Arizona. He's written to Big League Dreams about the complaints he's heard, many of them about the costs and conditions.

Stark said that while rental rates are substantial, he thinks people will find Big League Dreams worth it - once the fields improve.

"It's a fabulous facility, nothing like it in the state," he said. "The first time they are there, the spectacle of being in something like that will outweigh what the field's shape is like."

"Now whether they come back or not, that's contingent on the playing condition."

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