For Fredericksburg-area youth, Sunshine Park is more than fields of dreams.
There's hope, a lot of love and a ton of hard work behind the new baseball field park on Wicklow Drive off of Fall Hill Avenue in Bragg Hill, where officials and more than 200 people gathered Friday for a grand opening of a third artificial grass field and the William and Patti Lynch Education Center.
Stephen Coan, trustee of the Ripken Foundation and COO of Sea Research Foundation Inc., thanked the Lynch family for making the education center possible. The center has a powerful broadband connection and flat screen monitors that will air live, interactive educational programs for youth, he said.
"It's not all boring, kids. That's not the point," he said. "There's a lot of fun programs, a lot of activities, hands-on things and opportunities to explore the world beyond this ball park and beyond Fredericksburg."
Mike Adams, chairman of the the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation's Fredericksburg board of trustees, said the goal of the park isn't to create major league baseball stars.
"It is our goal to create major league people," he said.
Fredericksburg City government and the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation in 2007 partnered to build the youth baseball and softball complex. Kevin Bingham, COO of the Ripken foundation, said the goal is to have 50 similar parks across the country built by 2015.
"You started something very special," Bingham said.
The park was built with $2.9 million, most of which came from private fundraising. Philanthropist Doris Buffett donated $1 million, the City of Fredericksburg provided $400,000 for infrastructure and roads and another $350,000 was made in-kind for the education center. The nonprofit Fredericksburg Area Youth Development Foundation will run the park.
Abilty field was opened earlier this year, which is a green artificial turf field with the Challenger League, which is an organization for special needs children. There are a total of three fields, two of which have artificial turf, and a playground is in the next phase.
"I don't think there is a department in the city that did not have some part to play in making these beautiful fields a reality," said Fredericksburg Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw.
Virginia's Secretary of Public Safety Maria Graff Decker said Sunshine Park is a tremendous opportunity for children.
"Baseball as the Ripkens see it is about building character as much as it is about building sports skills," she said. "We look forward to seeing our young leaders of tomorrow enjoy the field."
Bingham said the park will help make productive citizens out of the area's youth. The field will host Little League games and youth from Stafford, Spotsylvania and King George counties.
"I charge the young people today: let's play, lets have fun, but let's try to be leaders," Bingham said.
Cal Ripken Jr. was unable to make the event because of the unfortunate incident that happened with his mother, but Ripken wrote a letter that Bingham read at the event. The foundation thanked Buffett for her dedication to the park and gave her an autographed Cal Ripken Jr. jersey with a message on it that said, "Thanks for your inspiration behind Sunshine Ballpark. Generations of kids in Fredericksburg will benefit from your generosity. We are glad you are on our team!"
Darrell Feller, an Air Interdiction Agent, flew in a helicopter from the Office of Air and Marine and handed Buffett the ball for the first pitch on the new third field. His landing brought more than 100 kids onto the field in awe.
Three players from the Negro Leagues—Mamie "Peanut" Johnson, Pedro Sierra and Joe Durham—also spoke. Johnson was the first woman to pitch in the Negro Leagues.
"Please take this oppportunity to be all you can be and be the best that you can be," Johnson said. "I stared playing baseball when I was very, very young in South Carolina. We were making our own baseballs and I learned to play because it was something I wanted to do. If it is something you want to do, don't let anybody tell you what you can't do. Strive to do it, and work at what you are doing and do it well. That's what I did."
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