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Baltimore’s Frederick Douglass High gets a new field of dreams

Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation donates baseball-softball facility in West Baltimore

BALTIMORE — The baseball and softball teams at Frederick Douglass High School will no longer have to play on concrete surfaces now that the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation has gifted the school a field of dreams.

“Last year, we didn’t even have a field, “said Frederick Douglass baseball coach Walter Watkins. “Last year, we had batting practice and one of the foul balls came too close to somebody who was standing there. And they flashed a gun at us and told us that if the ball had hit them, they would’ve shot us.”

The field is named after Baltimore Orioles legend Brooks Robinson, a Hall of Fame third baseman who played his entire 23-year career in Baltimore.

“I came to Baltimore in 1955, right out of high school,” Robinson said. “And after being here a long time, where I met my wife and got married, I found it as a great place to live. So as I’ve gotten many opportunities to do a lot of things, it just came naturally to give back to the city. That’s what it’s all about.”

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Brooks Robinson Field at Group1001 Park is a synthetic turf field that has a removable pitcher’s mound, dugouts, a digital scoreboard and bleachers. The MLB-MLBPA Youth Development Foundation also provided a batting cage for youth programs.

Although it is naturally designed for baseball and softball competition, it’ll also encourage more physical activity and youth sports.

“You know we dealt with a lot. The kids didn’t have a facility, didn’t have anywhere to play,” said Watkins, who is in his second year as coach. “We lost our first 10 games last year and then came back and won five out of seven — just the result of playing. The kids love to play, they just need a place to play.”

Frederick Douglass junior second baseman Justin Adams first heard about getting the field his freshman year.

“It makes me feel great. Having a field that we can come to, enjoying life, have a great time, especially if it’s this beautiful. We used to practice over there,” said Adams, pointing to the old field. “Sometimes the grass wasn’t always cut and stuff, so it was hard to get some good practice over there, get nice, good field balls. But on this, I can feel that we will get the most impact of the ball, get us ready for our game.”

Hall of Fame Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. said Frederick Douglass High was chosen because of the field’s potential impact in the community at Group1001 Park.

“No. 1, I think it was a desire to help, and then to focus the attention on where the help is most needed,” Ripken said. “Once we started talking about multiple locations in the city of Baltimore, we thought this had to be one of the locations. We know the value of sports and the lessons it can teach by putting a field right here to allow a lot of kids to learn.”

During the ceremony, Robinson called the complex a “field of dreams” because of the opportunity many kids still don’t have.

“Just being here and being able to play on this field is unbelievable,” Robinson said. “I mean, how many people grow up with a field like this to play on? Not many. And that’s really what this foundation is all about. Giving kids an opportunity to play on something like this, and camaraderie you get playing with each other, really helps the community.”

Frederick Douglass High School players run onto their new field.

Rob Smith/Ripken Foundation

The foundation members never began with the intention of building fields until they realized that some of their programming provided a safe place for that to happen. After that, a lot of people with the same vision and aspirations began looking at the possibility and put resources to work.

The biggest investor and catalyst in helping plans come to fruition was Group1001 CEO Dan Towriss, who made the field possible as part of a $5 million donation to the foundation that will be used to build 10 youth development parks with supporting programming over five years in 10 cities across the country.

His desire to help started a few years ago after someone told him about Fields & Futures in Oklahoma City and how it was building ball fields in at-risk areas to give kids an alternative to gangs. Soon afterward, Towriss got involved in helping them build those fields.

“Every kid needs to belong to something,” Towriss said. “You want to give them the chance to belong to something that’s for a positive reason and provide those opportunities. Again, to be part of something that’s really cool and to do it here in the community.”

The Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation has completed 88 multipurpose facilities in 23 states and Washington, D.C.

“We want to take our resources to leverage those resources to try to create as many fields, youth development parks like this across the country,” said Towriss.

Kevin is a junior mass communications and print journalism major from Baltimore. He's a reporter for The Spectrum student newspaper and is a big fan of the Washington Wizards.