A Little Fenway Park in Pennsylvania
- Updated: December 3, 2013
(Reading, PA) – Berkshire Baseball has been in the midst of a $7 million facelift of the Berks County Youth Recreation Facility, a 22 year old, 118 acre youth sports complex in which the non-profit organization entered into a 20-year lease with the County of Berks at the beginning of 2013.
The organization has already invested over $225,000 of improvements to the facility since 2012, but biggest changes to date will take this off-season.
In order to help raise capital for this next phase of the project, Berkshire Baseball just kicked off an engraved brick program to help raise funds for its renovation project. The project, which actually entails two separate parcels of land, is broken down into eleven different phases through 2021. The original project was slated at about $3 million and was only for the county owned Youth Recreation Facility, which has four baseball/softball fields, four soccer/lacrosse fields and walking trails. Since the time that the organization had entered into that agreement with the county, they have also reached an agreement to lease the Bern Township Lions Club Recreation Facility starting in June of 2015 as well, which consists of another four baseball/softball fields and is located directly across the street from the Youth Recreation Facility.
Phase 3 of the project, which will take place this off-season will carry a price tag of $500,000 when the club adds a 30’ wall in left field of Charlie Wagner Field that will be constructed of concrete, steel and a forest green plastic sheet material for the face. Additionally, the Carl Furillo Way walking path will be extended to the parking lot and a brick archway, which will have an uncanny resemblance to the brick facade on the face of Fenway Park in Boston. It will be at that entrance where people will be able to secure their legacy or that of a loved one by purchasing an engraved brick for only $100.
Berkshire Baseball is a multi-faceted organization that is committed to teaching life lessons and leadership skills through sports to its players. The organization stresses the importance of community involvement and giving back by having its players participate in various community and charitable events throughout the year. Additionally, the organization is a very important player in regard to the economic health of the Reading and Berks County area as it generates between $5 and $7 million of economic impact annually through the 26 wood bat youth baseball tournaments that it conducts in the area. Visitors regularly come to Berks County from all across the Mid-Atlantic Region and as far as California, Canada and Colorado to participate.
Once completed in the spring, Wagner Field will become a major attraction for youth baseball teams from all across the country as a destination on their annual tournament circuit.
The two week-long youth tournaments that the organization will be conducting in 2014 will generate a significant positive impact on the community. The promotions and special events that the organization will be featuring while collaborating with other non-profit organizations throughout the 2014 season will leave a lasting impression on everyone at the facility.
Anyone can help support the project with the purchase of an engraved brick by using a secured link on the organizations web site at www.berkshirebaseball.com.
The organization is also paying homage to some of the greatest baseball players with ties to their local area by naming several of the items at the Berks County Youth Recreation Facility in their honor.
“I’m a big proponent of educating today’s young players of baseball’s rich past.” Said Dan Clouser, who is the founder and current President and General Manager of the organization.
“I’m always asking my players questions about old ballplayers to see how much they know about the game, so as we did this I didn’t want to just hang a few names on the fields, I wanted to educate those who come here as to why each field and walkway is named after a certain player and what that player’s ties were to our area.”
And so it began, the task of honoring the local greats and preserving their legacy in the game. It was actually easier said than done. There were only four fields at the facility and more than four deserving ballplayers with local ties.
One of the fields at the facility was already named Rocky Colavito Field in honor of the outfielder who is best known for his years with the Cleveland Indians. During his 14-year Big League career, he also played for the Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Athletics, Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees.
As plans for the renovations began to unfold it was realized that one of the fields would take on very similar likeness to that of Boston’s Fenway Park, complete with a 30’ “Green Monster” type wall in left field and a Pesky Pole in right, it was a no-brainer for it to now bear the name “Charlie Wagner Field” in honor of Reading’s own “Broadway” Charlie Wagner, who was a life-long employee of the Boston Red Sox as a player, coach, scout and consultant of the club.
As the organization took on the task to convert the two smaller 70’ fields to 90’ fields in 2012, there were some obstacles to overcome. Cutting the infields from 70’ for 90’ was the easy part, figuring out how to overcome the shorter outfields was a little more difficult.
So as things began to take shape, the outfield dimensions of the one field started to become very unique and quirky. Directly down the left field line is only 261’. There is then a “hump” in left field to make the power alley a little more legitimate. However, as leftfield comes into centerfield, the fence coils back in to wrap around the existing light pole and then takes a sharp turn to get to about 360’ to the deepest part of the park and then takes an almost straight line to the right field line, which measures out to about 278’.
So while not an exact replica of old Polo Grounds in New York, it certainly has the characteristics of centerfield at the Polo Grounds.
With that in mind, it was re-named Vic Wertz Field.
Even the most novel of baseball fans has seen the highlight of Willie Mays’ over-the-shoulder catch in centerfield of the Polo Grounds in the 1954 World Series. However, few people probably know who hit that ball. Well, it was Vic Wertz and after Wertz hit that long fly ball that Mays caught in the 1954 World Series, which is also known as simply, “The Catch”, it went over 450 feet to dead center of the Polo Grounds and a sportswriter at the time said, “It would have been a home run in any other park, including Yellowstone.”
Wertz was actually born in York, Pennsylvania, but his family moved to Reading when he was 11 years old. He was a star for the Reading High baseball team as well as Gregg Post American Legion. He signed a minor league contract in 1942 and made his Major League debut with the Detroit Tigers on April 15, 1947. During his 17 year Big League career he also played for the St. Louis Browns, Baltimore Orioles, Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins.
The fourth player to be honored by having a field named at the complex was a three time World Series Champion with the St. Louis Cardinals, George “Whitey” Kurowski.
Kurowski was a third baseman and like Wagner, played his entire career with the same club, the St. Louis Cardinals from 1941-1949. Kurowski batted and threw right-handed. He debuted on September 23, 1941, and played his final game on October 1, 1949. In a nine-season career, Kurowski posted a .286 batting average with 106 home runs and 529 RBI in 916 games played. Kurowski’s childhood nickname came from his already white hair.
With the four fields at the complex being named, the club figured that it could honor some of the other deserving local ballplayers at the complex by naming the walking paths in honor of a few other Berks County ballplayers.
The walking paths will be named Carl Furillo Way, Dick Gernert Way, Paul “Cooter” Jones Way and Rocky Santilli Way respectively.
Carl Furillo was nicknamed “The Reading Rifle”. He played his entire career as a rightfielder for the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers. He was member of seven National League champions from 1947 to 1959 and he batted over .300 five times.
Gernert was a first baseman and outfielder who played for the Boston Red Sox from 1952–59, the Chicago Cubs for part of 1960, the Detroit Tigers in 1960 and and part of ‘61, the Cincinnati Reds for the remainder of 1961 and the Houston Colt .45’s (1962).
The final two honorees are the only two that didn’t spend any time in the Major Leagues, but due to their impact on the games of baseball and softball locally, the Berkshire organization felt they were deserving honorees ot the complex.
“Cooter” Jones, who came to Reading as a member of the Class AA Reading Indians, is best known for his leadership of the Reading High baseball program from 1973-1996. Jones guided the Red Knights to a 327-192 (.630) mark in his 24 seasons at the helm, capturing three Central Penn titles (’76, ’80, ’82) and the same number of Berks County crowns (’83, ’87, ’93). The highlight of his coaching career came in 1983, when Reading High finished 27-2, winning the District 3 title and the crown jewel of Pennsylvania high school baseball, a PIAA Class AAA championship.
Rocky Santilli was a long-time men’s fast pitch softball coach who started his managerial career in 1959 with the Rising Sun Sunners. Over the course of the next 41 years, he amassed over 2,000 victories along with dozens of trophies and honors.
Even more so than other sports, baseball has always been a game where the deep roots of its past always intertwine with the present day game.
Through this renovation project and the organizations exception 25-year track record of organizing great youth baseball tournaments will put Berks County on the map as an even more significant tournament destination for youth baseball teams.
The organization hopes that those who come and visit the complex will get a better education and understanding of the rich baseball history that exists in Berks County as they read about the players who are being honored at the facility.
Below you will find a blueprint for the entire complex.
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For more information on this release, please contact:
Dan Clouser, President & General Manager
Berkshire Baseball Club
1098 County Welfare Road
Leesport, PA 19533