Renovation project unveiled

The potential future of Ed McNeil Field will be on full display beginning this week, as a proposed renovation plan for the 72-year-old baseball facility is first introduced to the public.

Permanent lighting, grandstand seating, a state-of-the-art press box, and a new concessions and concourse area are among the items on the agenda for the project, which is scheduled to begin in August of 2015 and reach completion before the first pitch of the 2016 season.

“Our theme is honoring the past and investing in the future,” FDSH head coach Blake Utley said. “We feel like our field is among the best in the state from an atmosphere standpoint, but we have desperately needed to upgrade many aspects (of the facility) for a long time. Improving the seating structure and adding lights would be a significant step forward for the program and our loyal fanbase.

“This would be an awesome way to make our home environment complete. We are very excited about the opportunities that lie ahead with this design.”

The goal of the McNeil Field renovation committee is to raise $700,000 strictly through private funding. Utley said that approximately 75 percent of that total amount would need to be in hand by March of 2015.

Adding lights to the north side of Dodger Stadium has always been on the program’s wish list. McNeil Field is one of the few baseball parks in the entire state without a lighting structure, meaning Fort Dodge’s doubleheaders must start at 3:30 p.m. and finish before dark.

“Obviously the light situation has been talked about for quite some time,” Utley said. “It’s a top priority to better accommodate local fans who aren’t able to make the mid-afternoon first pitch, as well as out-of-town travelers who are having to take significant time off work to watch their kids play here.

“The ability to host postseason games would also be a tremendous advantage that we’ve missed out on in years past (no tournament contests start before 7 p.m.).”

The proposed grandstand behind the home plate area would add 300 permanent seats and a covered roof to the equation, replacing the removable metal bleachers. Additional lawn-chair viewing areas bookend the grandstand in the design.

“It would also offer an elevated seating arrangement, which would allow fans a much better view of the field,” Utley said. “We’ve heard so many comments through the years. Fans, players and coaches love the field and the ivy and everything Dodger Stadium has to offer, but the seating options and angles are simply sub-par. A grandstand would completely change that, and provide ample shading as well.”

The Gene Elston press box – named after the Fort Dodge native and Hall of Fame broadcaster who called the Cubs-White Sox exhibition opener to christen Dodger Stadium’s baseball field in 1942 – would perch over the new grandstand. A concessions and recognition area, which will honor former players and project donors, is slated to flank the grandstand to the south.

“I think we can all agree that Dodger Stadium and Ed McNeil Field are vital pieces to our community’s recreational growth; it is always important to recognize and improve the quality of life in Fort Dodge,” Utley said. “We want to do what is best for not only our program and its fans, but the city in general.

“This is a significant investment for both the short- and long-term future of baseball here at all levels. The time is right.”