Early this past week, Rick Anthony, director of Anne Arundel County Recreation and Parks, went to see the new synthetic turf at Wiley H. Bates Heritage Park in Annapolis before the formal ribbon-cutting held Thursday.
"I was blown away," he said.
Anthony expects the reaction to be the same for those who are now able to use a variety of fields at the park.
The Anne Arundel Recreation and Parks was formally given the field Thursday in a ceremony attended by Orioles' Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. and other members of the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, as well as elected officials and Mark Butler, president and CEO of Ollie's Bargain Outlet.
The field, dubbed Ollie's Bargain Outlet Park, will be maintained by the county parks department, and is designed to "provide underserved youth with a safe place to learn and play," according to a release from the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation. The Boys & Girls Club of Annapolis, among others, will use the facilities.
The multipurpose facility includes a synthetic turf playing field, digital scoreboard, goal posts for football, soccer goals, and a baseball diamond including a backstop and dugouts. It was designed and installed by FIELDS Inc.
"It wasn't that we targeted any specific place in Annapolis," said Steve Salem, president of the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation. "It was more a part of a national initiative to provide a safe place to play. Not just to play baseball, but to play."
The park is on land owned by the county inside Annapolis.
"It is an area of great need," Salem said. "Over the course of time, [the property] got overgrown with weeds. It became an unsafe place to play for kids. It was a beat-up, old piece of property. There was a great need; that is our first requirement when we build these."
Salem said the complex, at 121 South Villa, cost about $1.3 million. He credited Del. Michael E. Busch, speaker of the House of Delegates, with helping to raise about $500,000. Busch was among those at Thursday's dedication.
"Our biggest champion in the state of Maryland is Mike Busch," Salem said. "This park is right in Mike's district. It was a perfect match for us."
"It will probably be one of our pre-eminent fields in the county," Anthony said. "We are very excited to have this right in our jurisdiction. We were very excited about the opportunity to work with the Ripken Foundation and the Boys & Girls Club. We think this will be a tremendous asset for Annapolis city residents and for county activities."
Several organizations are working together to make the field a resource for youths in Annapolis and the county. County recreation and parks officials will work with the Ripken Foundation and the Boys & Girls club to use the field for health, fitness, history and cultural programs.
Among the goals is to provide a safe place for youth to play — and stay out of trouble. According to a release from the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, Anne Arundel County had an 8.8 percent school suspension rate in 2011 compared to the state average of 7 percent, and had 4,374 juvenile arrests in 2010.
There are three other Ripken-backed parks in the Baltimore region: at the site of Memorial Stadium on 33rd Street, in Patterson Park and in Park Heights. Four more sites are in the works for Maryland: Aberdeen, Latrobe Park, St. Agnes/Babe Ruth Field and Kennedy Krieger Institute. There are more around the United States, and the goal for the foundation is to build 50 parks nationwide, officials said.
"We are building these parks across the country," Salem said. "On Aug. 11 we will cut the ribbon on our 25th park, in Aberdeen."