Joco Sports

Big-league collaboration helps expand baseball, softball programs at ‘The J’

The Jewish Community Center celebrated the opening of a new synthetic turf baseball field Tuesday, April 17, 2018.
The Jewish Community Center celebrated the opening of a new synthetic turf baseball field Tuesday, April 17, 2018. Jewish Community Center

Rainouts, muddy fields and bad hops on a rough infield are a thing of the past at the Jewish Community Center, which had a ceremonial ribbon-cutting last week for a the new synthetic turf baseball field.

“If it starts to rain, we’ll just wait it out and resume the game when it stops,” Sports and Recreation Coordinator Bob Hennecke said with a laugh.

The new turf, which includes a total of three baseball diamonds, enables the community center to expand its youth baseball program for boys and, for the first time, offer a softball field for girls’ teams.

“With the new field, we can play three games simultaneously increasing the number of boys playing on 125 teams to around 1,700 and 400 girls playing softball,” Hennecke said. “Players in our youth program range in age from preschool through eighth grade. We can play games day and night, seven days a week, rain or shine.”

The programs are open to the public and not just members of the Jewish Community Center, Hennecke said.

“All they have to do is register and bring a glove,” he said.

The new turf field also will serve as the home field for Kansas City Christian’s high school baseball team.

“This is great for our baseball team,” Kansas City Christian athletic director Josh Poteet said. “With no home field, we had to play all our games on the road. Practices were a problem. We’d find a field in one of the parks and start practice only to find it was reserved by another team and we’d be run off.”

The synthetic turf was made possible through financial donations from the Jewish Community Center and Kansas City Christian School along with a $235,000 grant from the Baseball Tomorrow Fund, a joint initiative of Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association.

Conversations about laying a synthetic turf on the large ballfield in the southwest corner of the community center’s campus, which is located at 5801 W. 115 St. in Overland Park, started about three years ago, according to Hennecke.

“We wanted to expand our present youth baseball program and start girls softball but we didn’t have the space,” he said.

The discussions eventually included Royals General Manager Dayton Moore, who conducts an annual summer youth baseball camp at the Jewish Community Center. Todd Zylstra, head of school at Kansas City Christian, also expressed interest along with Jewish Community Center Board Chairman Andrew Kaplan.

Construction started in August and the Panthers played their first game on the new field earlier in April ahead of the formal dedication and ribbon-cutting, which took place April 17 along with “first pitches” by Zylstra, Moore and Kaplan.

During the dedication, that trio also spoke briefly about the importance of three organizations coming together to make an idea become a reality, emphasizing that it never would have happened without the generosity of many people.

League games at the community center, popularly known as “The J” around town, officially got underway April 20. The field will be named later, Hennecke said.