The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, October 18, 2017 1:00 am

City embracing its baseball past, future

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

Fort Wayne may not have any major sports teams, but it has major history. The NBA was formed here, the Komets are in their 66th hockey season, and athletes such as Rod Woodson, DeDee Nathan and DaMarcus Beasley grew up in the Summit City.

And Fort Wayners like to educate big-city folk about our past, which includes Fred Zollner being the first to use a private airplane to transport his NBA players, Arnold Palmer pocketing his first golf paycheck here, or Mike Emrick learning play-by-play from Bob Chase.

In baseball, local history is particularly rich: The Fort Wayne Kekiongas hosted, and won, the first professional game in 1871; one of the first night games – some believe the first – was in Fort Wayne in 1883; Dottie Wiltse Collins and the Fort Wayne Daisies inspired Dottie Hinson and the movie “A League of their Own”; and of course there are the TinCaps.

If you look around the city and see the state-of-the-art facilities that have been built for many sports, you can see Fort Wayne embracing the future as much as the past. That's especially true with baseball, judging by Tuesday's dedication of three new fields at the World Baseball Academy. The fields, at the ASH Centre, 1701 Freeman St., have artificial turf infields, natural-grass outfields, and moveable bases and pitching mounds to accommodate players of all ages. They will be used for youth tournaments, college games and everything in between.

“Compared to some of the fields in the Indiana area, what we had before was a little outdated,” said Kade Kolpien, a 17-year-old catcher for Homestead and the Summit City Sluggers. “But they did get the job done.”

And now? The not-for-profit World Baseball Academy has awesome facilities to strengthen the local economy and improve the caliber of players and their personalities.

“I've learned here that you should not only be a leader inside the (baseball) program but also be a leader all around. I took what I learned here back to the Boys & Girls Club and helped people through some hard times,” said 11-year-old Vincent Garcia, one of many to have improved both his baseball and life skills at the Academy.

Teams from around the nation have come to Fort Wayne for tournaments in hockey, basketball, soccer and other sports for years, and now the ASH Centre should be a prime baseball locale. The best thing about the fields, which have so far cost just over $2.8 million, is no tax money was used. Donating at least $250,000 were the Lutheran Health Network, Tim and Libby Ash, Jim and Mary Beth Ash, and the English Bonter Mitchell Foundation.

“Baseball has been such a big part of this community, and it's been neat to see the next chapter of the story be written. That's one thing that Fort Wayne has been lacking – a first-class, central hub – and that's what this facility represents. It's a community project, 100 percent funded by our community donors, from foundations, companies and individuals, so it's really a great asset for the whole baseball community and the community at large,” said Academy CEO Caleb Kimmel, adding $650,000 is needed to complete lighting, scoreboards and other amenities.

Major League Baseball has had Fort Wayne natives in recent years – Kevin Kiermaier, Jarrod Parker, Eric Wedge – but today it's easier to see even more of them making it there.

Justin A. Cohn is a senior writer for The Journal Gazette and has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1997. He can be reached by email; phone, 461-8429; or fax 461-8648.

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