One step closer to playing ball
It wasn't exactly baseball weather, but the official groundbreaking for the new First National Bank of River Falls Field at Hoffman Park was held in a snowstorm last Wednesday afternoon near the projected home plate area of the new facility.
The lighted, stadium-style ballpark with covered grandstand will serve as the future home to the River Falls Fighting Fish amateur baseball team, the River Falls American Legion Post 121 team, select River Falls High School varsity games, and "showcase" River Falls Youth Baseball events. Opening day is scheduled for June 2014.
On hand for the groundbreaking ceremony were River Falls mayor Dan Toland, Family Fresh Market store director John Wild, General Beer Northwest manager Mike Gorst, River Falls Baseball Council president Josh Eidem, First National Bank of River Falls president Jeff Johnson, and First National Bank of River Falls lead director and special projects coordinator Sandra Smith-Wurm.
A reception was held following the event at Bo's N Mine as part of the River Falls Area Chamber of Commerce 'After Hours' program.
Eidem said the project has come a long way since fundraising began in January 2012.
"We are building something beautiful, something important, and something that is going to add to the quality of life in River Falls," Eidem said. "It has been a tremendous amount of work to come this far, and it's all going to be worth it on opening night in 2014."
The driving force behind the project is the River Falls Baseball Council (RFBC), formed in 2011 to officially bring together all local baseball organizations that had informally collaborated the past decade.
The RFBC signed a lease with the city last March to develop and maintain a ballpark on the 7.7 acre parcel located between Hanson Road and the Hwy. 35/65 bypass. The group hopes to begin moving dirt at the site as soon as weather permits, hopefully no later than May 15.
Eidem said much credit for getting the project off the ground belongs to RFBC vice president and high school baseball coach Ryan Bishop. He was unable to attend the groundbreaking due to coaching commitments with the Wildcats.
"This is really the culmination of 10 years of hard work and sacrifice on Ryan Bishop's part to make baseball a priority again in River Falls," Eidem said. "If there is one person that deserves a lot of credit for getting here, it's definitely Ryan."
The $800,000 ballpark is being funded almost wholly by private citizens, baseball fans and the local business community.
Major donors include First National Bank of River Falls, which is contributing $100,000 for naming rights, Family Fresh Market, $50,000 for the outfield scoreboard, and General Beer Northwest, $50,000 for a Leinie Lodge pavilion and concession stand. More than 40 other local businesses have also made financial contributions towards the project.
So far the RFBC has raised $655,000 in construction capital, aided by a $300,000 loan backed by the city, with $145,000 remaining to finish the project. Eidem said as baseball season gets rolling, he hopes the community will step up to help reach the total.
"While I am both a Twins fan and a St. Paul Saints fan, and I wish them great success, we're asking that before you spend that $200 to visit Target Field or Midway Stadium a second or third time this summer, please consider visiting First National Bank of River Falls and purchasing a donor brick to help us here at home," he said.
Personally engraved 4-by-8 inch paver Bricks for the ballpark's Donor's Plaza, as well as engraved seat nameplates in the grandstand, are available for $200 each or $300 for both.
Forms can be found at First National Bank or on the RFBC website. Other sponsorship opportunities include light poles, the home and visitors' dugouts, two picnic sections on the upper-level of the grandstand and outfield fence advertising.
For more information about the project, including a virtual tour of the ballpark, visit the RFBC website: www.riverfallsbaseball.org.