Play ball! Opening Day for Mountain Recreation players is big-league fun
Ribbon gets cut on new concession stand and bathrooms at Eagle Sports Complex
EAGLE — Opening Day for Mountain Recreation baseball and softball leagues Saturday at the Eagle Sports Complex was one giant smile factory.
That’s what happens when you bring together more than 600 local kids representing 53 teams and let them run through an inflated tunnel and then across a whole field of awaiting high-fives under a cloudless blue sky.
As if the fun of starting a new season wasn’t enough, a carnival atmosphere greeted players, coaches and parents.
You could get your face painted; complete an obstacle course; jump in a bounce house; pet a goat, duck or steer; color in a giant mural; or chow down on a free hamburger or hot dog, all within the friendly confines of the ballfield complex.
And at the center of it all was a new concession stand and bathrooms that were completed over the last year. Liz Jones, the president of the Mountain Recreation Board, cut the red ribbon to officially open the new concession stand to start the day before the team introductions got going and the grills got fired up.
“This is the best day ever,” Jones said. “What a gorgeous day and everyone is out here. This is the gravy part.”
‘Very normal out there’
Just a little more than three weeks after the county lifted the last of its public health orders, you couldn’t help but smile at the sight of youngsters playing ball and just being kids.
“It is absolutely joy,” said Janet Bartnik, the executive director of Mountain Recreation. “That is the one feeling I have is joy to see so many smiles knowing that we are making every kid’s day today.”
Or, as Justin Brandt, a dad of four who lives in Gypsum, said Saturday morning: “It feels very normal out there.”
Brandt has two daughters on the Tornadoes: Molly, 6, and Mya, 4. His wife coaches the team.
Molly said her favorite part of T-ball is getting to bat.
Azul Rodriguez, 11, said her favorite part of Saturday was getting to run through the inflated tunnel with her teammates on the Firecrackers. But that was before playing her first game of the season.
Being outdoors and meeting new friends is what she loves about softball, she said.
Listening to the community
The new concession stand and bathrooms at the complex are the result of Mountain Recreation listening to the community, Jones and Bartnik said. The capital project, which was overseen by Goulding Development Advisors and builder RA Nelson, came in 13% under budget and was completed without having to approach district taxpayers for any additional money.
“We did some study and asked the community a lot about what they wanted, and what we heard loud and clear is that, ‘we want restrooms and we want shade,’” Bartnik said. “We knew we had an older concession stand facility that wasn’t very operational. And the board wanted to make a statement. This is an amazing board that made one amazing statement today. We’re excited to have restrooms that flush, a lot of shade and a space that can really be activated to create that community on this Eagle Sports Complex.”
This summer, the ballfield complex will host 13 major events and tournaments, four of which will be completely new to the calendar. The largest events scheduled include the Vail Lacrosse Shootout, which brings in 105 teams over nine days, and a tournament called the Triple Crown Youth Baseball World Series, which brings in 60 teams over six days.
The estimated attendance for these events exceeds 100,000 visits to the sports complex this summer.
“In my mind, it’s essential,” Bartnik said. “We need visitors to come in to support local businesses, and this is one of those spaces where that can happen. Not only that, but it serves our local community at the same time because a lot of times it brings in that level of higher competition that sometimes our kids crave.”
Mountain Recreation’s board and staff are already plotting the next big move for the district, surveying the community to gauge the willingness of taxpayers to support up to $80 million of expansive improvements at three of its facilities in the valley.
Among the proposed upgrades are an expansion of the Gypsum Recreation Center; a transformation of the Eagle Pool and Ice Rink that includes making the rink a year-round facility; and, last but not least, doubling the size of the Edwards Field House and adding a second story.
“We’re planning for some really large capital projects that we’re excited about,” Jones said. “We hope that everyone agrees that they’re going to be the premier capital projects that add to what our mission is, which is to be happy and safe and healthy together.”
As the valley continues to grow, Jones said Mountain Recreation is committed to growing with it.
“It’s absolutely our goal and our mission to be inclusive of every single person in this county,” she said. “Every age, every season, every reason. We have something for everybody. It goes a long way toward mental health, to be together, which is a lot of our focus on these capital projects. It’s not only to create them as recreational centers but community centers so that people can come together.”