Branson Ballparks Venue Brings Major League Feel, Lasting Memories for Players
With the heat index nearing 100 degrees, a late Thursday afternoon little league baseball game in Branson drew strong attendance. Fans of the Hollister Tigers cheered loudly after a double to deep right center field gave the team an early 1-0 lead over the Springfield Mavericks.
This, however, was just a three-inning scrimmage between two 12 and under squads. The significance of the competition was not in the game itself but in its venue.
“Behind us is the sound of pitches being thrown and balls being cracked off of bats here at our tribute to Wrigley Field in the middle of Branson, Missouri in the Ozark Mountains,” says Hamilton Chang, CEO of Ballparks of America.
The venue - which brings to life historic Major League Baseball stadiums at two-thirds scale for youth players – welcomed roughly 400 guests and stakeholders Thursday to a ribbon cutting and inaugural scrimmage at the recently completed Chicago Cubs replica field.
“You’ll see foul posts that are reminiscent of the foul poles that are at Wrigley, you’ll see ivy along the outfield wall, you’ll see basically the field and look of a big league stadium or ball field,” Chang says.
The idea behind the $20 million project started over three years ago. Ballparks of American carries the tagline “Pro for a week, Kid forever” and aims to build the future of baseball. Now, the new venue is preparing to host its first tournament this weekend.
Nira Glenn is here watching her grandson Colin Cash, second baseman for the Springfield Mavericks. Glenn says she’s excited for the opportunities that these ball fields will provide young athletes.
“It’s kids playing a team sport, a clean sport – there’s no I in team – that’s what they’re teaching them, they have great coaches. It gives them lots of exercise, I think it’s wonderful.”
Located just off of Branson’s historic Highway 76 strip, Ballparks of America is on the former site of the 65-acre Factory Merchants Mall. The buildings that made up that outdoor strip mall still stand. They’re being repurposed to house the visiting ball clubs and to offer space for commercial vendors.
Branson Mayor Karen Best has lived here for more than a decade and can remember shopping at the mall.
“Spent a lot of money here in the past,” she says, smiling.
Now, Best and other Branson officials are hoping the replica stadiums not only offer unique experiences for young ball players, but have a trickle down economic effect. As a helicopter flies overhead taking aerial photos of the park, Best explains how significant this younger demographic can be.
“And with every child that comes it’s usually grandma, grandpa, mom, dad, aunt and uncle, so they’re gonna need something to do while they’re in town – they’re gonna need a place to stay, they’re gonna eat in our restaurants, so everybody sees this as a real economic engine for our community,” said Best.
That was true on Thursday for Nira Glenn.
“We rode the Ferris wheel today, we played mini golf today, and we just live in Nixa right outside Springfield. But it opens that venue for everyone,” she said.
Nearly 200 12U baseball players will play in the first Ballparks of America tournament this weekend. First pitch is scheduled for 2 pm Saturday and will include local entertainers, a car show, among other activities. CEO Hamilton Chang says seeing the complex come together leaves an almost indescribable feeling.
“I think that we’re absolutely blessed to be put in this position, to do what we’ve been able to do what we’ve done thus far and also to have the dreams and the perseverance to continue and to do even more,” said Chang.
Historic Tigers Stadium, with its iconic flag pole in center field, is also opening this weekend at Ballparks of America. That, along with Wrigley Field are the two venues where youth will pitch, catch and run the bases Saturday. The St. Louis Cardinals’ famous Busch Stadium is also in the works. Chang says as demand for play in Branson increases, more stadiums will be added.