A "Field of Dreams"

Nicole Caissie, CET, Technical Assistant, Parks & Leisure Operations, City of Moncton

This field has been a dream for many people for a long time. In 2014, the committee who calls itself the “Field of Dreams”, presented this concept of an accessible baseball field to the City of Moncton and the Province of New Brunswick.

    The Field of Dreams program provides an opportunity for children of the Greater Moncton area with cognitive or physical disabilities to enjoy participation in baseball at a level structured to their abilities.

    The program is in its seventh season; affiliated with Challenger Baseball Canada in 2013, and has grown in participation and awareness with children with special needs. The Challenger Baseball program’s philosophy is very simple, “Play, just for fun!”

    In 2014, the merger of two senior baseball teams resulted in the formation of the Moncton Fisher Cats who have helped the Field of Dreams committee continue to become stronger than ever.

    Early in 2016, a decision was made to retrofit one of the baseball fields at Moncton’s CN Sportplexe into a fully accessible field. An existing Mosquito field was chosen due to its proximity to the existing parking lot and washrooms. The City of Moncton joined the Field of Dreams committee along with the Province of New Brunswick in a joint partnership to each commit $167,000 towards this project.

    The CN Sportplexe is the largest recreational facility in Moncton which consists of 10 baseball fields – 4 Mosquito, 3 Peewee and 3 Bantam ballfields. It also consists of six soccer fields, four indoor ice rinks and a large air supported structure which offers paintball, golf, soccer and football.

    The CN Sportplexe is a success story on its own. Up until 1988, it was the home of a large Canadian National Railway facility. The land remained vacant until 1997, when its owner, Canada Lands Company, decided to develop the site into a useful community facility. This was the beginning of a massive cleanup operation to transform the site into an award winning recreation facility. It has hosted many national and provincial events and is now going to be the proud owner of an accessible baseball field.

    The field will first and foremost allow kids with disabilities an area to play without limitations, but when not in use by the Field of Dream players, the field will continue to be used by the local Minor Baseball program.

    The concept design was created by Viridis Design Studio Ltd. and in January 2016, they started to design the tender drawings. The fact that we were retrofitting an existing field and didn’t want to limit the field for other users was the reason we thought that the best product to use was artificial turf. The infield would be fully replaced with artificial turf and the outfield would remain as natural turf. An existing senior league field that the Challenger Program had been using has an artificial infield with clay based running track. This combination proved to be less accessible for those with mobility challenges as well as being arduous to maintain with migrating clay mix onto the artificial turf surface.

    Reconstruction of CN Sportplexe Ballfield #3 began on July 4, 2016. Turf Masters Landscaping Ltd. of Nova Scotia was awarded the contract and work began immediately on the infield renovation.

    The original design of the field consisted of a centre crown throughout the entire field with a grade of 1.67% slope on both sides to enable top-drainage. That was an initial challenge as the outfield was going to remain but the infield was going to be retrofitted with artificial turf which should not have a slope of more than 1%. Also, the infield had lost some of that shape due to grooming practices and wind erosion. The artificial turf requires minimal grade as it relies on underground drainage systems.

    The infield mix was removed to expose the original subgrade. The subgrade was regraded at 0.8% slope. A drainage pattern was designed in order to capture the water coming through the turf. A 200 mm layer of 6-31.5 mm drainage stone was added throughout the infield area over top of the drainage field. Then a 25 mm layer of 6-13 mm stone was placed over that. A rubber curb including a flexible edge from SportsEdge was used to separate the artificial turf from the natural grass in the outfield or the crusher dust in the warning track.

    Then came the artificial turf.

    The entire infield was replaced with either green or rust coloured artificial turf including inlaid turf in white for the foul lines, bases and the catcher/batter box. The artificial turf that was chosen was Field Turf’s Classic slit-film fibre system. The turf fibres are responsible for comfort and safety of the players, durability and a natural, grass-like look with soft and pleasing grass-like feel and resilience.

    The infill system within the turf fibres was made up of a mix of rubber crumbs and silica sand. This provides appropriate cushioning to absorb impact as well as offers the hardiness required for wheelchairs while still providing traction for all players.

    In order to make this an accessible field, the field was built with a flat pitcher’s area rather than with a mound. When the field is used by the minor baseball teams, the City of Moncton will purchase a removable mound made of artificial turf on a fibreglass base.

    The warning track in the outfield which was originally made of infield mix, wasn’t a great surface for wheelchair use, not to mention difficult to maintain weed growth. It was dug out to
150 mm deep and the infield mix was replaced with compacted 0-6 mm crusher dust. This provides a good rolling surface as well as keeps grass growth at bay.

    The original dugouts were removed and new accessible ones were installed on concrete pads. The openings were made wide enough for wheelchair access and fold-up benches inside the dugouts make it that much more convenient for all levels of abilities.

    New accessible bleachers were also installed on concrete pads. These bleachers provide designated areas for wheelchairs as well as a railing going up the centre of the bleachers. It also provides more safety with a chain-link fencing around it.

    To add to the comfort of the spectators, beautiful canopies will be installed over the bleachers. Two 2.5 m deep piers were poured in behind the bleacher pads to secure the cantilevered
fabric canopies.

    Wrapping both bleacher and dugout concrete pads with asphalt created a seamless pathway all around the backstop. An asphalt trail continues from this area to a circular drop-off zone where people will have a shorter walk to the baseball field. Baseball stitching patterns will be painted in the centre of the roundabout to enhance the theme.

    Alongside of the drop-off zone is a handicap-only parking lot, an addition of seven parking stalls to the site. The asphalt trail continues to the existing accessible washrooms.

    One of the Field of Dreams committee’s future goals was to have a scoreboard added to the field. As it  happened, the City of Moncton had a scoreboard on the CN Sportplexe site that had been acquired but had never been used. It was decided that it would be donated to this field … after all, it was blue in colour which perfectly matched the canopies and dugout roofs!
    Due to some delays, the field was not ready for the expected September 2016 Grand Opening. Instead, the Grand Opening will be postponed to May 2017 in order to have all components completed. Details like banners and signs which will be designed this winter will be able to be part of the Grand Opening.

    Additional enhancements to this project in the future may include having an accessible playground beside the field, with seating areas and picnic tables, also being accessible. After officially announcing the project in May 2016, the Field of Dreams committee was awarded three grants, one from the Blue Jays Care Foundation of $125,000, one from President’s Choice Children’s Charity of $165,000 and one from Pita Pit of $10,000, totalling $300,000 so far towards the project.

    But the goals for all who are involved with the team – players, their parents, sponsors and volunteers, have always been to remove some of the obstacles that make everyday living a challenge and to provide these players the ability to enjoy playing baseball just like all the other kids.

    The kids who love the game will be able to play here, no matter what their abilities are. And even though we set out to build a fully accessible baseball field, it should be noted that we have in fact built a fully inclusive baseball field, as no one is left out. •