— By BRIAN SMITH
Weatherford Municipal Utility Board members approved extending a wastewater line that will enable construction of a ballpark for physically and mentally challenged kids.
Director of Wastewater Utilities James Hotopp told the board during Thursday’s regular meeting that George Mercer had contacted the city to see if he could build a baseball park for special needs kids. His 23-year-old son, Vincent, has taken part in the Weatherford Challenger League, but has aged out of that program. Mercer owns the land for a 5-acre facility in the 2300 block of Tin Top Road, between Interstate 20 and B.B. Fielder.
Hotopp gave the board three extension options for the line, the one chosen coming from the south, at an estimated cost of about $84,000. The line will need to be extended about 850 to 900 feet for the park’s purposes.
The facility itself is in need of sewer facilities, Mercer said, because it can take up to 90 minutes to get a player ready for play. Water lines are already at the field itself. Once completed, the all-rubber field will allow children using wheelchairs, walkers and canes to play baseball.
Mercer said the nearest Miracle League is in Arlington. Several Parker County families take part in the 500-player league, Mercer said.
The rubber field is different than what Challenger uses as well. Mercer said he will be making a capital investment of about $550,000 for the facility.
Having the field close to I-20 could bring in players from as far as Eastland and Abilene, Mercer said. Mercer said he expects in the first year to have about 40 players. With an expected 20 percent growth, he hopes to max out at around 300 kids in the future. Weatherford’s Challenger League has three teams, Mercer said.
The project could have an impact on hotel and motel usage as well. Mercer said many Miracle League families make a weekend of taking part in games, using nearby hotels, restaurants and gas stations. Having several hotels quite close to the proposed facility could be a great benefit for the city, Mercer said.
Miracle League players are paired with a buddy to help them during the game. In the past, Aledo and Weatherford College athletes have taken part in Challenger games and Mercer says both parties have benefitted.
Mercer said he is also planning on developing a park next door to the facility that can be used by those with developmental issues. He admits he would need to go into fundraising mode for that.
“This is a great opportunity for the city and area,” Mercer said. “It’s not only a win for the city, but a win for the kids as well.”
Mercer did not give a date for completion, saying he had to have a site plan developed and field construction could take from four to five months.