Who will be the first to hit it over the “brick monster?”
A new 14-foot “state-of-the-art” outfield wall will challenge Centennial Lakes Little League hitters next year at Carl Eck Park's Lion's Field. The $72,000 undertaking will repair the old wall while bringing the field up to little league dimension standards, enabling it to host 12-year-old players at next year's state tournament. The new wall will feature about 10 feet of brick base and four feet of chain link fence at the top for spectators to overlook the action.
“You'll be able to rest your elbows on the fence and look down 13 to 14 feet while watching the game,” said Centennial Lakes Little League Director Pat Mahr. “It's going to be a nice family-oriented ball field for the community.”
The wall renovations are coming after league supporters said the old wooden retaining wall was leaning forward and becoming dangerous. Also, the field dimensions are short by about 20 feet ever since it was built in 1989. When Carl Eck hosted the little league state tournaments in 2000 and 2008, top-division 12-year-olds could only play at adjoining Carl Eck Field, which has a 200-foot center field fence.
Earlier this month, the Centennial Lakes Little League team were eliminated from regional play in Indianapolis. Had the team advanced to the World Series, it would have played at a field with a 225-foot center field fence in Williamsport, Pa.
With participation approaching 1200 players from across the Quad area, Centennial Lakes Little League raised about $16,000 through pizza and candy fundraisers to help pay for the field renovations. A $10,000 Minnesota Twins Community Fund grant also is helping curtail costs to Circle Pines city parks funds.
“It's a wonderful example of how we all work together to get a project done that would be too much for any of us individually,” said Circle Pines Mayor Dave Bartholomay.
Construction on the field began earlier this month, and is scheduled for completion in mid-September. Mahr hopes the first games can be played next April.
Plywood billboards over the brick will provide some level of padding for overzealous outfielders who might slam against the wall. The field will keep its warning track. Mahr, who's headed the league since 1989, said he's never seen a child hurt by the outfield wall. Foam padding was considered, but Mahr said it would be too easy to vandalize. Leaving the brick bare would also leave it susceptible to vandals.
Besides the main wall, other project funds are going toward a new pavilion above the right field wall for spectators and sodding in between the two fields. There will also be a gathering area with picnic tables.
“In 22 years as president, this is the biggest project we have ever undergone,” Mahr said. “Next year, the players are going to have to put it over a big wall. That will be an exciting thing.”
Some of Centennial's biggest baseball stars all got their start in little league. New Minnesota Twin Austin Malinowski came through the system, and his father also coached. Centennial High star Sam Alt also played little league at Centennial Lakes, and did some umpiring of 12-year-olds earlier this summer.