Cal Ripken Jr. Helps Unveil New Youth Baseball Field

Post & Courier, May 2016

CHARLESTON, SC--A joint venture between Major League Baseball and Scotts brought Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. to Tom Conley Park on Monday to kick off a national program that involves fixing up youth baseball fields across America.

Scotts, the official lawn care company of Major League Baseball since 2010, is the main sponsor of the "It's good out here" field refurbishment program. The company spent $150,000 on the field makeover, which included new sod on the infield, new fencing and a new scoreboard.

The program will refurbish six fields a year in six major league markets the Lowcountry being part of the Atlanta Braves market.

"The playing field is part of the experience for young kids and it's exciting that we are able to do things like this," Ripken said. "It was neat to see the kids faces as they walk out here on the field. It's like opening day. For these kids, they can certainly feel like a big leaguer on a field like this. That's a great thing."

Tom Conley Park is part of the Ladson Youth Organization, a volunteer organization formed nearly 50 years ago to give local youth an opportunity to participate in sports. There is no city recreationdepartment to fund the organization, which also hosts leagues in softball, football and basketball.

Clyde King, who began as a coach in 1969 after completing his Army service in the 82nd Airborne, has made LYO and Tom Conley Park his life. He has cut the grass, lined the fields, fixed the fences and organized the leagues, alone, for the last 30-plus years.

One person caring for four fields with less than adequate equipment was a tall order. Thus, the main original field was barely playable until recently when the new refurbishing campaign was announced in late March.

Through word of mouth and the help of Berkeley County councilman Tommy Newell, who represents the area and has been a longtime volunteer coach with LYO, Tom Conley Park became the first national project in the program.

"We were looking around all over the area, but many of the fields were city-owned and were in great condition," said Daniel Brock, of Rawle Murdy, who was charged with finding the area field in the most need. "We found out about Tom Conley and it was clear from the first moment we met Clyde and saw the park that this would be the ideal place to initiate the program."

On Monday, Ripken and other dignitaries representing Scotts and the Atlanta Braves cut the ribbon to open and dedicate the field. King could only marvel and thank those involved.

"This is unbelievable what these people have done for us," said King, who has spent the last 20 years as a crossing guard and custodian at nearby Sangaree Elementary School. "It's very humbling. These kids now have something to talk about and feel good about where they play. This is something that everyone can be proud of."

In addition to the renovation of the field, the Braves and Major League Baseball also provided more than $10,000 worth of baseball equipment and a special gift to King an Atlanta Braves jersey with his name and No. 47 signifying his tenure with LYO. MLB also conducted a mini-clinic for youngsters on hand and the event was complete with plenty of food and jump castles.

"The future of our game is really right here in the youth leagues, so it's very important to us," said Jim Allen, vice president for corporate partnerships with the Atlanta Braves. "The fact that Major League Baseball wanted to start this program in Braves country means a lot to us."

"A lot of this today is to recognize Clyde for his dedication and hard work in keeping this place and this league alive for as long as he has. From my understanding, it was a pretty easy selection once everyone met Clyde."

On Tuesday, youngsters will play the first game on the new field. King will line the field and make sure everything is extra perfect for the initial contest a T-ball game between teams coached by the oldest and youngest coaches in the league. Newell said the new field seems to have rejuvenated the 71-year-old King.

"He's like a kid on Christmas morning," Newell said. "This is such a great thing for him and these kids. Clyde's been doing this a long time and he was getting tired. This whole thing has got him going again and everyone is glad to see that."