06/18/2011 11:20 AM
Article By: Tom Quinlan
ORLEANS, Mass. -- Eldredge Park, home of the Cape Cod Baseball League’s Orleans Firebirds, has been regarded by many, including Baseball America, as the best summer collegiate park in all of baseball.
What is it about this ballpark that continues to bring fans back for more every year, with fans lining up their blankets along the banking behind first base starting at noon for a 7 p.m. first-pitch start?
Is it the grass that makes you feel like you’re at Fenway Park? Is it the outfield dimensions that make a pitcher believe he’s walking into a ballpark that favors him? Or is it the way it attracts as many as 3,000 fans a game at home? Everybody’s opinion on it differs.
“Some teams play in ballparks with lights, some without. Some play in forgettable surroundings and some, like the Cardinals (now Firebirds) in Orleans, play in a sylvan setting so transcendently beautiful one’s breath is swept away.”
That was a letter written about Eldredge Park to the Boston Globe back in August 1998 from San Diego civic leader George Mitrovich. His letter was later published in an article that month.
The field’s history dates back all the way to the Woodrow Wilson Administration in 1913, when Lewis Winslow “Win” Eldredge built a park for the kids of Orleans to play in. He acquired 250 acres in Central Orleans and donated 10 of it to build the park. Home plate was originally out in left field when the park was first designed. Much has changed since then, but one thing has always remained. Eldredge Park has always made the true baseball fan feel like he his home.
This past winter Eldredge Park received a face-lift. Due to a generous grant from the Yawkey Foundation, Orleans had the chance to revamp Eldredge Park. The Firebirds organization was one of the last of all 10 teams in the Cape League, along with the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox, to renovate their field.
The most recent field improvement process went through two phases over the past several years. Phase one saw the team provide new dugouts, a brick wall backstop with padding and more protection for fans down the left and right field lines with new netting. This was ready for the 2010 season.
Phase two was the biggest part of the project, as the organization revamped the entire infield, beginning of the outfield, and designed new bullpens for both the Firebirds and visiting opponents. The infield is a turf field as it was designed by Sports Turf Specialists Inc. The Firebirds’ organization has developed a long-term relationship with the company. Sports Turf Specialists are regarded as the top field construction and maintenance organization in all of New England. Some of their clients include noticeable names such as the Boston Red Sox, New York Mets, Lowell Spinners, Boston College, and now the Orleans Firebirds.
John Kaletski headed up this long-term project and in a recent interview with Firebirds’ intern Greg Joyce (Boston College) said, “The Firebirds have initiated a long term relationship with Sports Turf Specialties, Inc., of Wrentham, MA, to insure the Firebirds facilities continue to be maintained at the highest possible standards.”
“We take real pride calling Eldredge Park our home field and we’ll do our best to keep it. “We want our fans to enjoy the experience of coming to this ballpark and make them feel like they are at a professional venue with the same small town feel.”
The most noticeable improvements may be the infield, but there are other subtle improvements fans may not recognize. The outfield bullpens are NCAA-regulated and in the near future there will be a fence around the home bullpen to protect players and fans. Also in the outfield, the warning tracks were widened 15 feet to help meet NCAA guidelines.