MURRAY — As rough as the COVID-19 pandemic has been in 2020 for Murray-Calloway County Parks and Recreation, the most unkind cut was made by something already plaguing the agency.
Since arriving in 2017, Parks Director Ryan Yates has made regaining Murray’s reputation as a popular tournament venue for youth baseball and softball tournaments a top priority. And while Parks and Recreation’s decades-long struggle to build its financial foundation has certainly not helped, it has been the system’s inability to host tournaments already scheduled, thanks to rainouts, that has proven the biggest challenge to this quest.
That is why the Murray-Calloway County Park Board took a rather large step this week, unanimously approving of a project that will resurface the infields at the Central Park 4-Plex and leave them better able to withstand whatever curveballs Mother Nature can throw.
“To be honest, it’s embarrassing,” Yates said during Monday’s board meeting, where he presented a proposal that will result in the clay infields currently in place being resurfaced with more durable and rain-resistant crushed brick that several other facilities throughout the area have started using in recent years.
And Yates said at least one of those nearby facilities is actually benefitting from Murray’s problem this fall.
“It’s happened twice,” he said of how tournaments of between 30 and 40 teams from throughout the region that had been scheduled for Murray but were rained out, then resurfaced in neighboring Mayfield, where crushed brick infields are in place. “Mayfield could play and we couldn’t. So (Yates, along with several other Murray-Calloway officials) went over there to see what they had done and, I kid you not, the fields were perfect. I mean, they looked like Wrigley Field (in Chicago).
“There was one week where we had gotten a bunch of rain … three, maybe four inches … so, obviously, we didn’t play here in Murray. But they played in Mayfield. They had the same amount of rain in Mayfield we did, yet they played. And you wouldn’t have even known it had rained there. That’s how good those fields were.”
The answer is a $52,000-plus investment the board approved Monday, which is being handled with careful steps. The first $40,000 will come from funding from the City of Murray, which is designated for what are labeled “special projects.” This was the route taken to fund the resurfacing of the Chestnut Park basketball courts earlier this year, which has resulted in a strong increase in players using that facility, though limitations have had to be put in place lately because of the pandemic.
The remainder of the financing of the ball field resurfacing will come from Parks and Recreation’s prime investment fund.
“Like everything else, it washes off,” said Parks and Recreation Maintenance Director Steve Wilhelm of the crushed brick. “Anytime we have a gully washer, you’re going to lose a substantial amount at a time. What these other parks are doing is investing probably $3,000 to $4,000 a year and it’s just part of their annual budget and they bring in more crushed brick and just throw it on top of, then till it down, and whatever they lost in the last year or two, they replenish.
“The clay we’ve got? When it rains, you can see it washing down 10th Street or Eighth Street. It’s just loose dirt to play baseball on. When it rains and you have loose dirt, it’s just gone. During a seminar I went to earlier this year, the guy from Hopkinsville said that, with climate change and the amount of rain we’re getting now, if you want to invest in tournaments, you need to invest in something other than clay. It just won’t let you play and he’s right.
“If we get a two-inch rain, those fields won’t be playable for four days.”
Meanwhile, as Murray-Calloway has learned the hard way, tournament organizers are finding other nearby facilities ready to receive these events, bringing tourism dollars to those communities, as well as field rental and concessions dollars to the parks themselves, Yates said one of these tournaments, when Murray-Calloway has not been bitten by the rain, generate about $5,000 each. He said a change from grass infields to dirt in 2018 was intended to have included the insertion of brick to the dirt mix but that was deemed too expensive. Clay was used for about half of what the proposed work will cost.
“The biggest thing for us is just having (tournaments),” Yates said, adding that these fields also generate heavy concessions sales during regular-season league games, as much as $600 a night. “I’d like for us to be in a position where if they decide a tournament can’t happen somewhere else that they could come here because we have fields that can stand up to rain.”
He also said that the park also generates revenue from hosting other events like church-league softball and adult kickball, as well as youth flag football. Those also have suffered from rainouts.
The approval of the board is dependent on a suitable bid that will be obtained for the project. Wilhelm said plans are for this to move forward quickly with fields being ready for the 2021 season by March 1.