The project to build a baseball field for special-needs children and a handicapped-accessible playground has “morphed a little bit,” said David Grimes of Conway.
Grimes, a member of the Conway City Council, has been leading the charge to raise $300,000 for the field, as well as $300,000 for the playground, which was going to be built later.
“We’re going to go ahead and build the two simultaneously, using A&P funds to build the playground,” he said.
Advertising and promotion funds come from a 2 percent tax on prepared foods and hotel/motel costs.
“It makes more sense economically,” he said, to build the projects at the same time because the equipment will already be there.
“The goal is still to raise 100 percent of the ballpark money privately, a little over $300,000,” Grimes said.
To date, he said, the group has $225,000 “in hard, firm pledges.”
“We’ve got a lot of pledges pending. Folks are trying to figure out what they want to do. We still need some help,” he said.
The field and playground will be built at Curtis Walker Park on Museum Road in Conway and maintained by the city parks department.
“We can accommodate anything from wheelchairs to walkers [on the field],” he said.
A Miracle League field has been on the city’s master plan for a while, Grimes said.
However, Grimes said organizers have decided not to be a Miracle League affiliate, which he said is a brand and requires fees.
“We have a strong-enough parks department to run the program,” he said, which will be Braves Baseball.
“It’s open in to all ages,” Grimes said. “There will be a nominal fee, probably $25 to play, but no child will be turned away on ability to pay.”
The field will be called Braves Field. The Braves was a T-ball team for special-needs kids founded about 12 years ago by Dr. Kim Mitchell and Dr. Bill Patterson, both of Conway. Ben, their son, had a rare neurological disease and died in August 2007.
“One neat thing we’ve done, … we’re going to name the bleachers at the field Ben’s Bleachers,” Grimes said. “We’re going to have a nice plaque there saying he was the original Brave because he’s really the inspiration behind a lot of what’s happening here.”
Although Grimes said details for the field and playground aren’t finalized, a memorial-garden area will be created in the outfield for Braves who have died.
Grimes said the three names to date are Ben, Matthew Kelley and Michael Cantrell.
“Their names will go in the memorial-garden area, along with future kids who come through Braves Baseball who pass on,” he said.
“We kind of borrowed this from the Miracle League field in Little Rock,” he said.
“There will be a nice little bench out there. People can go out and watch from there if they want to,” he said.
Grimes and his wife, Laura, have three children, including a son, John David, who has a genetic disorder that causes benign tumors. Most of his tumors are in his brain and cause seizures and learning disabilities. John David played Miracle League baseball in Little Rock, and Grimes said he was impressed with the program.
He wanted to see Conway get a field sooner rather than later, he said.
“One thing we want to plan, probably not this year but in coming years, is I envision us taking two or three teams to Little Rock to play,” he said.
And Little Rock teams could come play on Conway’s field.
Grimes said the city has built a new handicapped-accessible restroom and concession facility at the field, using A&P funds.
“The playground will be open all year round to play on,” he said. “It’s an inclusive playground. Kids will be able to interact and play together.”
Also, because of the park’s proximity to the Conway Human Development Center, Grimes said, residents of the center will be able to utilize the field, too.
He said that within the next month, the city will select a construction manager for the project.
“We hope to start building very soon. We still have plans to play a late-spring, early-summer league,” he said.
“Once the season starts, we’ll need volunteers to be buddies during the games,” he said.
Buddies help the special-needs players in whatever way is needed.
“There will be lots of opportunities to volunteer,” Grimes said.
For more information, call Grimes at (501) 269-0412.
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.