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key to drawing
A. New Bleachers and press box
B. New turf field
C. ASH Centre
D. Warm-up area
E. Press box
F. Concessions/restrooms
G. Entry drive/monument sign
H. Storm water detention
I. Batting cages
J. Focal element
K. Main storage/electrical
L. Parking
Courtesy World Baseball Academy
Coaches from the World Baseball Academy, including Andy McManama, front left; Jamie Frazier, middle back; Peyton Lengacher, right front; and Andrew Armstrong, far right, recently took the game to Nairobi, Kenya.

Big ideas for baseball park

ASH Centre wants city to be global hot spot

Courtesy World Baseball Academy

Caleb Kimmel would shout it through a megaphone, if you’d hand him one: None of this is solely about the World Baseball Academy.

Not the three proposed youth-sized baseball fields with artificial surface infields. Not the proposed collegiate-sized all-artificial surface. Not the proposed bleachers, press boxes, lighting, enhanced indoor instructional space and scoreboards.

The price tag for these capital improvements to the ASH Centre is $6.5 million, and, yes, the World Baseball Academy, a grass-roots nonprofit that owns and operates the ASH Centre and of which Kimmel is executive director, would run it. But the project is not really about the academy or even baseball.

“This is something that would be utilized by the entire community,” says Kimmel, ticking off the list of groups that already use the existing facility. “We’re pretty much collaborative with everyone.”

That’s been a major selling point as the project – aimed at remaking the 26-acre complex into a world class youth baseball complex – negotiates all the proper hoops to secure a portion of its funding from the city’s Legacy fund, a process that began 2 1/2 years ago. Kimmel estimates if the funding is approved, it will cover roughly a third of the cost; the World Baseball Academy would have to raise the rest.

It’s all a long way from the humble beginnings of the WBA, which started in what Kimmel jokes was “a small closet” at the ASH Centre and has since grown into a leadership-through-baseball entity whose reach is not only nationwide but worldwide.

Across the years, the WBA has played host to a series of youth baseball tournaments called the Hoosier Baseball Classic that have drawn teams from 15 states in the last decade; sponsored overseas leadership teaching trips for local high school and college students, teachers and fathers (the most recent was to Kenya); and served needs for Little League, the local Boys and Girls clubs, YMCA programming, Fort4Fitness, local travel teams and local soccer and lacrosse programs. It also plays host to the Eric Wedge Baseball Camps, and partners with Wildcat baseball, Charis House, Erin’s House, the Boys and Girls Club and the TinCaps, which holds an auction every year for the WBA’s scholarship program for at-risk youth.

“Our plan even from Day One when we first got here was looking at the outdoor complex and really trying to transform this facility to be a central hub for amateur youth baseball,” Kimmel says. “We’re now at the point where we can’t really see much more growth unless from a community standpoint we invest in a first-class facility to grow the tournaments to fill a wide range of local needs for the game of baseball.”

Kimmel estimates the economic impact of the Hoosier Baseball Classic is $1 million per year, and that the proposed upgrades would likely double or triple that. In addition, the new complex would make it worth their while for international teams to come to Fort Wayne for tournaments.

“Then we can actually tap into the relationship we’ve already established internationally and make Fort Wayne really an international destination for travel youth baseball,” Kimmel says. “That can position Fort Wayne quite uniquely not just on a Midwest level but on a national level as an event planner.”

All of this, he says, has one focus and one focus only.

“The one thing I try to share with everybody, even though our title is World Baseball Academy and we do have global component, is it really is all about Fort Wayne,” Kimmel says. “It’s twofold. The international component is we’re really trying to take local high school students, local college students, local dads and teachers on international teaching trips. But that’s really the deeper part of our leadership development of trying develop young people.

“So the reason we take some of those teaching trips is really the development of our own local people, for their own personal growth and hopefully develop future leaders.”