Ryan Jensen of Silverton, Ore., trims field turf in the replica park.
Ryan Jensen of Silverton, Ore., trims field turf in the replica park. (Gina Halftery - Staff)
WHILE it may be constructed on a hill full of weeds rather than a cornfield in Iowa, city officials are optimistic that Mantecas new field of dreams will be a home run for tourism and retail.

Next weekend, the long-awaited Big League Dreams Sports Complex — a park that features replicas of famous major league ballparks designed to give visitors the feeling of being a professional player — will open on the outskirts of the city, strategically located between Interstate 5 and State Route 99. City officials are hopeful that the 31-acre facility will be a cleanup hitter for the economy.

This facility is going to be wonderful for the entire community, said Linda Albedt, executive director of the Manteca Visitors and Convention Bureau. With all the tournaments that will bring people here every weekend, were really hopeful that people will see what Manteca has to offer, which will be great for the local economy.

After being known for the Manteca Waterslides — whichclosed in 2004 — and for Bob Davis Manteca Trailer and Motor Home advertising slogan Mannnn-teca, the city had to find something else to hang its hat on, Albedt said.

Manteca hopes to become the sports mecca of the Central Valley, she said. A BMX bicycle track is in the works, along with the citys world-class soccer fields and Babe Ruth Leagues baseball fields.

We want to hang our hat on the sports market, Albedt said. Big League Dreams is the cornerstone of that.


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She pointed out that a recent weekend girls softball tournament with more than 70 teams brought in a projected quarter of a million dollars.

We feel this can be huge, she said, adding that in studying other Big League Dreams sites in Redding, Chino Hills and League City, Texas, the local economies loved having them because they bring in so many people for weekends. We have not heard any negatives.

It has been an outstanding success, said Pat Keener, an economic development liaison for the city of Redding. He said that since the park opened on July 4, 2004, in an isolated area northwest of the city, development has flourished around the area, along with an influx of tourists.

When we opened we expected about 125,000 to go through the gate, but we did almost 350,000 last year, said Keener, adding that tournaments would come from Reno, the Bay Area, even Spokane, Wash., to play at their complex.

Of course, such an anticipated reward for Mantecas endeavor comes after a risk. The parks $29 million price tag is paid for through a public-private partnership between the city and Big League Dreams, LLC. From the citys end, the funding came from redevelopment funds, which a city subcommittee argued during nearly six years of talks would turn southwestern Manteca into a tourist draw.

Once the Big League Dreams deal was clinched, developers for the

48-acre Stadium Retail Center right across the street from the park, approached the city. Now Kohls Department store is open, with Chilis Grill & Bar, Old Navy and Famous Footwear to follow. Plans for lodging in the area also are in the works, City Manager Robert Adams said.

Thats the whole idea behind redevelopment, Adams said. The city builds up an area to attract other development and generate more money for its general fund. With more businesses, and the possibility of hotels filling up during sports tournaments, the city ends up recouping more sales and hotel occupancy taxes, he said. Manteca owns the park but has a 35-year lease agreement with Big League Dreams to operate it.

We dont see anything thats not appealing about building in Manteca, Big League Dreams co-owner Jeff Odekirk said. Its a great location because we can reach baseball fans and leagues from the Bay Area and San Jose, also from Sacramento and up and down the Central Val-

ley.

That is the precise area Manteca will try to promote the new complex during its early innings of existence, Albedt said. She said the focus will be on a 150-mile radius of the Manteca area — within driving distance, she said.

Of course, it will be good if people start coming from farther away, because they wont be able to go home, she said jokingly.

The premise behind Big League Dreams is that the inner-child in the ballplayer can come out, while others can enjoy the additional amenities provided. 

The primary attraction of the park is its fields, six major league ballparks are replicated with special attention to detail. The scoreboard in the replica of Yankee Stadium, for example, mimics the perfect game played by the Yankees Don Larsen in 1956. Larsen was the only man to pitch a perfect game in World Series history. Bostons Fenway Park is set back to Game 6 of the 1975 World Series when Carlton Fisk hit a home run just inside the foul pole to win the game.

Other ballparks include Detroits Tiger Stadium, Chicagos Wrigley Field, New Yorks Polo Grounds and Anaheims Angel Stadium. On opening day, three of the six major league replica fields — Tiger Stadium, Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park — will be open.

Once the kids play on that field, they wont want to play anywhere else, Keener said.

The idea behind re-creating the historic parks, and not a ballpark like San Franciscos AT&T Park, is solidified by a law that copyrights architecture past 1989, Odekirk said. The other stadiums were up to Mantecas discretion.

Other amenities the park offers include a nine-station batting cage, separate childrens playgrounds, two restaurants with a full view of the fields, a sand volleyball court and parking for 600 cars.

Slow-pitch adult amateur softball teams will be the first to use the park, with youth teams and tournaments to follow in the spring, as the park becomes more complete.

The field house arena, designed for indoor soccer, volleyball and corporate and special events will not be open right away but should be ready for use in February, according to a press release.

The concept behind Big League Dreams started with Odekirk and his brother Rick. About 12 years ago, Rick — a minor league baseball player at the time — was looking for a way to make some extra bucks in the off-season. The pair noticed that while running instructional camps, there was a desperate shortage of fields.

Our concept was to maybe create our own complex, so that way we wouldnt have to compete for time, Jeff said.

They saw such a desire from baseball and softball players for more places to play, that they went into business with their father — a developer to create a complex of softball fields.

He played for the Yankees farm system, so he had a baseball background as well, Jeff said. One thing led to another and we decided to make the fields replica stadiums.

The park will host a grand opening Saturday featuring former Oakland Athletics pitcher Vida Blue, former Los Angeles Dodger Bill Russell and former As player Jeremy Giambi.

Paul Burgarino covers Manteca. Reach him at (209) 832-6143 or pburgarino@trivalleyherald.com.