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Marion's Prospect Meadows: Miracle in the making

Leaders have high hopes for baseball and business

Members of the Linn-Mar Prowl Softball Club chant in the dugout Thursday at the Prospect Meadows baseball complex in Marion. The complex opened its initial fields with exhibition games and a softball tournament. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Members of the Linn-Mar Prowl Softball Club chant in the dugout Thursday at the Prospect Meadows baseball complex in Marion. The complex opened its initial fields with exhibition games and a softball tournament. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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MARION — The name “Prospect Meadows” was picked because it embodies what proponents envisioned for the Marion baseball complex — young baseball prospects showcasing their talents in the fields of Eastern Iowa.

Prospect Meadows officially opened its first five ball fields Thursday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and exhibition games. Another four fields likely will follow next month to complete the $14 million first phase of the project.

Eventually, leaders plan to expand to 16 fields and hope to be a major economic driver for the region.

“It’s an economic development asset like none other that we have,” said Nick Glew, president of the Marion Economic Development Corp. “It’s a tool that without it, people wouldn’t be coming and spending dollars in our state.”

YEARS ON THE MAKING

Jack Roeder, a longtime staple in the Cedar Rapids baseball community, retired as general manager of the Cedar Rapids Kernels in 2010.

But that break lasted only about three months before early project leaders, including local businessman Rick Freese, approached him about their dream of having a baseball facility constructed in their community.

Many of the early leaders realized they were traveling to other areas to attend their children’s or grandchildren’s tournaments on the weekends and wondered why the Corridor couldn’t haves something similar.

“I always go back to my time with the Kernels. People would always ask me why we didn’t have something here,” said Roeder, now the Prospect Meadows general manager. “This is a great opportunity now ... for our local youth to play on a quality field, but also bring other teams into the community.”

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The project came along at just the right time for both Roeder and Tim Strellner, board vice president and chairman of the fundraising committee, who joined the project team eight years ago as a volunteer.

Since then, project leaders have worked to raise money for the public-private partnership.

Government entities have committed a total of almost $6 million, including a million or more apiece from Linn County, Cedar Rapids, Marion and the Iowa Department of Transportation. The county has let Prospect Meadows lease county-owned land at Highway 13 and County Home Road for $1 year.

Major private donors include the Hall-Perrine Foundation; Perfect Game USA, a Cedar Rapids baseball scouting company; Musco Lighting and Hall and Hall Engineers, among others.

Prospect Meadows was developed with a metaphorical four bases in mind — “pardon the pun,” Roeder said.

The first base is promoting local youth league play; second base is economic growth; third base is accessibility, giving rise to the Miracle Field for children with disabilities; and the home plate is the League of Dreams — an extension of Kernels’ programming of the same name for underserved youths.

From its beginning, Prospect Meadows was deeply connected to both the Kernels organization through Roeder and to Perfect Game as its primary tenant.

Kyle Rodenkirk, Linn-Mar High School’s head baseball coach and a former Cedar Rapids Jefferson High player and coach, said from his perspective, Perfect Game helped to put “baseball on the map” in the Cedar Rapids area — and the Kernels have had a tradition of giving back to the community.

“With those two leading and foraging that path ... I couldn’t be happier,” Rodenkirk said, adding that he hoped to hold youth camps at Prospect Meadows eventually. “Just seeing the kids have fun, that’s the biggest thing. I think we forget that with all the travel baseball.”

HOTEL ROOMS IN DEMAND

During the weekdays, Roeder said he imagines the facility supporting local youth leagues.

But on the weekends, traveling tournaments and showcases will — he hopes — have a major economic impact for the area through hotel stays, room taxes, restaurant stops and shopping.

Economic studies forecast that after a roughly $5 million phase two is complete in 2023, the facility would bring in about $20 to $25 million to the community each year, Strellner said.

That’s done through about 60,000 hotel room nights per year, thanks to extended stays for dayslong tournaments. So far, bookings for tournaments this season are averaging 3.8 nights, Roeder said, although that number won’t stay that high because fall tournaments get shorter.

“Hotel rooms in the summer are going to be very difficult to get, and that’s a good thing because that means there’s lots of people from out of town ...,” Glew said. “They’re also spending money at our restaurants, purchasing things from our local businesses. It’s an all-around win for everyone.”

Strellner said he believes that when phase two was complete, it would separate Prospect Meadows from anything else similar in the area. He said there are quality one-quad facilities, but once tournaments start needing between eight and 16 fields, there are very few options.

The Cedar Rapids area also is in a good spot for attracting teams from a number of major metropolitan areas, usually a four- or five-hour drive from places like Chicago and St. Louis.

Perfect Game, Prospect Meadows’ biggest tenant, committed to bringing in a thousand teams a year for 15 years.

Roeder said this year will see a bit fewer because of the shorter season after the facility’s late May opening.

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Opening the facility in two phases is an opportunity for Prospect Meadows leaders to better understand supply and demand for their facility, and to build the second phase to accommodate any unmet needs, Strellner said.

“I think it’ll be a stair-stepped building block,” he said. “That’s not going to happen in 2019 or even in 2020 but that’s more the grand vision, if you will, which is really the way any business starts or grows.”

FIELD FOR ALL ABILITIES

Prospect Meadows was designed to be an exceptional experience, not only because of the number of fields it will have but also the look it has and roles it will play.

Each field has an all-turf infield, designed to help balls hop the same way every time and handle rain better than natural fields. They also reduce the time between games needed to drag dirt and line fields.

Also noteworthy is the facility’s typography. The quads are on different tiers, with some fields being set in bowls to improve the look.

And part of the design from the beginning was to have the area’s first Miracle Field. It’ll host games on 14 Saturdays during the year with a league run by the Marion Metro Kiwanis.

Roeder said he has been working with area nonprofits to make the field available during weekdays or when it’s not in use by the league.

The Miracle Field is part of the larger baseball complex so kids of all abilities can play in the same spot.

“The Miracle Field is the first thing you see when you come in the facility,” Roeder said. “People obviously are going to be interested in those games and they want to stop and watch.”

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Additionally, in the middle of each quad is a concession stand and scout tower so visiting baseball scouts and coaches can see all four games on the quad at once during showcases and competitive tournaments for Perfect Game.

“It’s really going to make baseball, I think, blossom around here,” Rodenkirk said, adding that many of the older kids who play travel baseball are used to the intensity of those tournaments. “I think baseball is really doing to explode in this area.”

• Comments: (319) 339-3172; maddy.arnold@thegazette.com

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