Venerable Minor League park gets facelift for inaugural Little League Classic
By Mandy Bell
WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- The anticipation of watching the inaugural MLB Little League Classic is building, but few realize how much work went into preparing the field for tonight's game on ESPN at 7 p.m. ET. Since March 1, a grounds crew team has been stationed in Williamsport to make historic Bowman Field ready to host the Cardinals and Pirates.
Bowman Field, which opened in 1926, is one of the oldest Minor League ballparks and has undergone multiple renovations over the years. But not even the last upgrade after the conclusion of the 1999 season made the field close to Major League ready.
Enter Murray Cook.
Cook is Major League Baseball's official ballpark and field consultant and has 27 years of experience building and renovating baseball stadiums and fields around the world. In addition to overseeing the renovations at Bowman Field, Cook has worked many types of events -- including the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the World Baseball Classic.
"[There are] about 60 countries I've been through working on ballparks and stadiums, and fields and whatever," said Cook. "I always loved going to Australia. I love coming home the most, obviously. It all becomes a blur after a while, [after] 27 years doing this."
Although the span of time from March 1 through Aug. 20, might have seemed like an ample amount of time to complete the latest modifications, the grounds crew of about 60 people had another obstacle to overcome. Bowman Field is also the home of the Williamsport Crosscutters, the Class A Short Season affiliate of the Phillies, which meant the field needed to be ready by their first home game on June 22.
"Obviously, there were a couple [of] things already in the works," said Cook. "They had already planned to replace a lot of seats, the backstop and potentially the dugouts. We ended up doing a lot more than that, as far the fencing [and putting in new] foul poles [were concerned] -- and, of course, the field was a major removal."
The dirt and grass from the original field had to be completely torn up and replaced in order to meet Major League standards. On top of that, Cook and his crew had to shorten the fence distance; install a drainage system to help the field be playable on or after rainy days; build two bullpens beyond the right- and left-field fences; construct a batter's eye in center field; and move the dugouts in from shallow left and right field in order to be closer to home plate.
"We had to take out about a foot and a half of soil and ... bring in about 8,000 tons of material to level it because it's an old ballpark," Cook said. "The outfield fence when we came in ... was 351 [feet] down the right-field line, 345 [feet] to left, which is a big park. So we brought in the fencing, put bullpens behind the right- and left-field fence, added new padding -- and boom, here it is."
Now, after Cook's four-plus months of work, the only way to distinguish Bowman Field from a Major League ballpark is the seating capacity of about 2,400. The newly-built outfield fence has each Little League region written on the wall, while MLB Little League Classic logos are printed on the tops of each dugout and the outfield grass is cut perfectly into the traditional diagonal lines.
No matter how much work has gone into the field so far, the project isn't finished until fans start filing in on Sunday. Cook cannot wait to see the final masterpiece. With the countless hours that went into reconstructing the field, it's easy to wonder what will happen to it after Sunday's game. Everything that has been built, bought and renovated will be left in place for the Crosscutters.
"Absolutely, yeah, [the renovations will stay]," Cook said. "We've been helping [the Crosscutters] take care of it, maintain it. [We've] got some equipment here for them to take care of it. It's going to drain better. They have a new tarp and the grass is really phenomenal. It's a good field, they are going to have fun."
Mandy Bell is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.