By JOHN MARCASE
Saturday morning, the Pineville Dixie Youth Baseball and Softball Association held its season-opening weekend at the Ward 9 Sportsplex.
About 40 minutes into the first game of the day, play was halted due to rain.
Anyone who has had any type of experience in the past at Ward 9 knew what rain meant — a rainout. Rain and all-dirt infields are not a good recipe for playing baseball, and countless number of games and tournaments have been impacted at Ward 9 since it opened in the early 2000s.
But those days are no longer.
“We sat in the dugout and the rain passed,” said Pineville dentist Josh Huffman, D.D.S., a longtime Pineville Dixie coach. “About 10-15 minutes later, we finished that game and played the rest of the day. That would’ve been 100 percent a rainout in the past.”
Thirty months after voters passed a bond to upgrade Ward 9 with synthetic turf, among other upgrades, work has finally been completed to the point baseball and softball games can be played again. Work started in July 2021, but came to a half a few months later when the original contractor on the project went bankrupt. That, along with supply chain issues, delayed the project by more than a year. Instead of re-opening in February 2022, it took until last week before games could be held.
“I always thought we’d get here, but I wondered when,” said Steve Rachal, facility director for Ward 9 since it opened. “Everyone has been patient.”
That includes the Pineville Dixie organization. The past few years have been difficult for it, beginning with the COVID-19 pandemic that canceled the 2020 season. The final season at the old Ward 9 in 2021 was plagued by a wet spring that cost many games. Last season, games were played at the City of Pineville’s Wardville complex.
While Ward 10 Dixie began playing on turf fields in the fall of 2020, and Alexandria Dixie moved back into the re-built Johnny Downs Complex last year, Pineville Dixie waited its turn.
“The ballpark is definitely nice,” said Huffman, who is coaching in the Pineville Dixie league for his sixth straight year. “I’m not gonna lie, it’s nice to come home without having to clean the dirt out of your eyes. It’s as nice as any place around here.”
Fields 1-4 are complete and open for play, while Fields 5 and 6 are expected to re-open in the next 2-3 weeks. All six fields will feature turf out to 210 feet. The remaining 90 feet is natural grass. Temporary fencing allows baseball games of all ages to be played. Other improvements include new lighting, brick backstops from dugout to dugout and the addition of bullpens down each baseline.
A new splash pad is awaiting final approval to open, and the newly covered hitting cages are awaiting final materials to open. Fields 7 and 8 in the back of the complex are currently receiving new lighting and other cosmetic work.
Next for Ward 9 is Phase 2 of its renovation. This will include a paved 1.5 mile walking track, improved lighting for soccer, a new soccer playground, new LED entrance sign and to finish the repaving of the parking lot.
Rachal jokes Phase 3 is “to enjoy it!”
Upcoming events at Ward 9 should include the return of travel tournaments, as well as the local Fall Ball League and elementary and middle school baseball leagues.