Leaders of youth baseball teams in Lexington County are eager to start practicing and playing on new fields coming to a complex in Pine Ridge.
“Everything feels better when it’s new and shiny,” Steve Knight, president of Midland Dixie Youth Baseball, said of the six fields for his sport and one more for football. All of the fields should be ready by spring at the complex, located on Fish Hatchery Road.
The new Pine Ridge fields are part of an expansion of recreational facilities in areas served by the Lexington County Recreation and Aging Commission. Overall, 11 new youth sports fields will be ready in time for spring games. Complexes at Red Bank and Swansea are getting two new ones each.
Overall, the $23 million improvement plan calls for adding 21 fields for baseball, softball, football and soccer. In the Lexington and Gilbert areas, new fields should be ready for spring 2019.
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The expansion brings to 135 the number of fields at eight complexes in the area south of Lake Murray and the lower Saluda River that the commission serves.
The new fields in Pine Ridge replace 53-year-old facilities with four fields that were kept up but had become outdated, Knight said.
“Age was taking its toll,” said Ben Barrs, 55, who played there as a youngster and who for 30 years has coached baseball teams that included sons and grandsons.
One major improvement is that the infields will all be grass, not dirt as on two of the four former fields. That promises fewer delays after rain because the new fields are designed to drain quickly, Knight said.
But some traditions will continue, Barrs said. “We try to instill life lessons and sportsmanship while they play,” he said.
Coaches and league leaders held a ceremonial turning out of lights at the old fields after the last game of the fall season on Nov. 2. “It was bittersweet,” said Barrs, who estimates he has coached 600 games and overseen countless practices at the old fields. “I have a lot of memories out there.”
The new complex is likely to attract more players ages 3-18 because more fields will be available, Knight said.
The number of players and teams coming from Pine Ridge, South Congaree, Cayce, Gaston, Springdale and West Columbia is expected to grow from 300 players on 30 teams to 400 on 40 teams, he said.
Meanwhile, two older fields will be converted for softball teams, officials said. The other two original baseball fields were refurbished and became part of the new fields.
The commission’s package of new fields and facilities is being paid for with property taxes. The owner of a $100,000 home pays about $3 a year for the improvements, county officials said.
With the additions, facilities will likely be adequate for five more years for a steadily growing population, commission executive director Randy Gibson said. Further expansion will be considered then.
The upgrades at Pine Ridge help bring facilities that the commission oversees into parity, Knight said.
That’s important because “if you look good, you play good,” he said.
Tim Flach: 803-771-8483
Ready to go
These projects proposed in 2013 are done, officials say:
▪ A baseball stadium used by the Lexington County Blowfish and collegiate teams for games, practices and tournaments as well as events such as concerts and movies.
▪ Improvements at senior centers in Gilbert and Pine Ridge.