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04 January 2003, 11:41 AM

Dallas hopes to score softball tournaments at new fields

By JOE SIMNACHER / The Dallas Morning News

Kiest Park is home to Dallas' field of softball dreams.

A complex of four new tournament-quality softball fields in the Oak Cliff park will be ready for play for the first time this spring.

Although softball aficionados are probably salivating over the prospect of league play on the premium fields, park department officials are eager to again be players in the national hunt for tournaments and the dollars they bring.

John Phillips, metro Dallas commissioner for the Oklahoma City-based Amateur Softball Association, said the fields put Dallas back in the tournament business after a 30-year absence.

Park department district manager John D. Jenkins oversees the Kiest fields. "Dallas used to be known for softball," he said. "This complex here is going to put us back on the map."
"I guess the last national tournament we had here in Dallas was the 1972 men's major fast pitch, which at that time was the granddaddy of national ASA tournaments," he said.

But as park maintenance dollars were diverted during tight budget times, Dallas' diamonds lost their luster. Its parks were removed from contention, and suburban cities have since filled the void for national tournament play in North Texas.

Major tournaments are coveted because they involve 90 to 160 teams. Cities usually pay to host the tournaments and get a share of the proceeds from the sale of tickets, souvenirs and concessions.

The economy also benefits as players and their families visit from out of town. Youth tournaments are the most attractive, bringing fat rosters of players along with siblings, parents, grandparents and other extended family.

With their first time at bat in nearly three decades, Dallas park officials joined forces with Arlington. The cities will host the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance championships in August 2004.

Wendy Parker, athletic program director for Arlington, said the national championship should bring more than 150 teams: With players, coaches, families and fans, that's about 12,000 visitors.

Arlington and Dallas will share the round-robin eliminations, and the three-day championship series will be played at Kiest Park.

The Arlington-Dallas team narrowly beat Houston for the tournament, Ms. Parker said.

"It's a very well-respected tournament from the states that have hosted it," she said. "I was approached by our visitors and convention bureau and asked if we'd be interested in partnering with Dallas. Of course, our response was 'absolutely.' "

Mr. Phillips, commissioner since 1974, said Dallas' return will make the region's position even more attractive.

"Only one or two times have we ever lost a bid," Mr. Phillips said.

The Dallas facilities rival or exceed amenities at the nationally recognized softball complexes in cities such as Grand Prairie, Plano, Irving, Arlington and Garland, Dallas park officials said.

The new softball complex replaces soccer fields at the south end of Kiest Park. It is built on 54,000 cubic yards of fill so the fields drain properly. The added elevation allows each field to have a covered seating bowl for fans, instead of the more traditional bleachers. Added seating can be brought in. The complex has a softball pro shop and ample concession stands.

The complex was completed last summer, but park officials wanted the outfields, planted with TifSport Bermuda grass, to become more established before opening it to games.

But even the sports turf has its limits, though, so the fields will be open only to league play.

"You can't drive up at 9 o'clock at night and hop out and play a pick-up game," said Willis Winters, assistant director of planning, design and construction for the Dallas Park and Recreation Department.

"That's what's tearing them up. These fields will be locked and available for reservation play only."

The fields, funded through the 1998 municipal bond plan, are the first phase of a $19 million master plan for Kiest Park.

Much like a municipal golf course, the complex will pay for itself through user fees. Profits will go toward future improvements.

Future phases will add a second complex of four fields, a larger pro shop, more parking, a 5,000-seat championship stadium and a 6-acre lake. The second phase has yet to be funded.

"We really need all nine fields ... national tournaments need massive amounts of fields," Mr. Winters said.

In the meantime, park and recreation managers are ready to play ball on the four existing fields.

John D. Jenkins, district manager with the Dallas Park and Recreation Department, is pleased to have a tournament scheduled.

Officials from across the country will meet this year to compete for Amateur Softball Association's 2005 tournaments.

"Dallas used to be known for softball," Mr. Jenkins said. "This complex here is going to put us back on the map."

E-mail jsimnacher@dallasnews.com

17 May 2006, 03:24 PM
Any news on this? Has it happened? Does anyone have a good graphic of the master plan? Found one online but it's pretty small.