GONZALES — The Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, a nonprofit named after the Baltimore Orioles great by his baseball star sons, is providing $150,000 toward the building of a $700,000 baseball field in Gonzales for children of all abilities.

"We launched an initiative about eight years ago to help communities bring back safe places for kids to play," Chuck Brady, of the Baltimore-based Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, told local officials and project volunteers Tuesday.

"Hopefully, kids will be playing out there next spring when baseball season starts," he said.

The baseball field in Gonzales that won the attention of the Ripken Foundation was the vision of a local team of volunteers with Leadership Ascension, an Ascension Chamber of Commerce program that each year invites teams of volunteers to execute community-enriching projects.

The team behind the baseball field, called Team of Dreams, is fundraising for the project, which would transform a T-ball field on Irma Boulevard into a baseball facility for children of all abilities.

"It's a big project, but there is a big need," Erica Page, a Team of Dreams volunteer, told the Gonzales City Council recently.

The foundation will arrange for a Georgia contractor that has already built 22 such fields for the foundation to come to Gonzales to build the field off Irma Boulevard.

Brady said the foundation will invite to the ribbon-cutting Cal "Iron Man" Ripken Jr., who played 21 seasons with the Baltimore Orioles, earning a place in the National Baseball Hall of Fame as one of only 10 players to get 400 home runs and 3,000 hits.

Ripken Jr. and his brother Bill Ripken, who also played with the Orioles and is a sports analyst with MLB Network, founded their nonprofit organization in 2001 as a tribute to their father, the late Carl Ripken Sr., who spent 36 years in the Baltimore Orioles organization — as a player, manager, coach and scout.

On Tuesday, Gonzales Mayor Barney Arceneaux told those from the Ripken Foundation and the Team of Dreams, "I think you guys have hit a home run." 

The total cost of the new baseball field is in the neighborhood of $700,000 and involves building wide sidewalk approaches to the field, a rubberized playing surface and restroom facilities that would be compliant with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

In addition to the gift from the Carl Ripken Sr. Foundation, the Ascension Parish government is providing $50,000 for the project, and close to an additional $50,000 has been donated by individual and corporate sponsors.

More than $75,000 of in-kind donations has been provided, including the design of the field and facility provided by Quality Engineering and Surveying in Port Vincent.

Page, of the Team of Dreams, said volunteers are also hoping to find a corporate sponsor to match the Ripken Foundation's $150,000 gift, which would bring the sponsor naming rights to the new baseball field.

The Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation and Team of Dreams were connected through a program by Louisiana's Office of the Lieutenant Governor, which has contracted with the Arlington, Virginia consultant group ARG Global Development to help local governments find sources of funding.

Once total funding for the new baseball field is in place, workers with Sports Fields Inc., of Canton, Georgia, the firm used by the Ripken Foundation for its youth endeavors, will be coming to Gonzales for three months to build the facility at the Irma Boulevard site that's owned by the Ascension Parish government and maintained by Gonzales. 

The Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation has helped build 85 baseball fields, many in inner-city areas, said Brady, who is vice president of strategic initiatives with the Baltimore-based organization. More than 20 of those fields, he said, are adapted for special needs children and are compliant with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

"Baseball becomes the platform for us to get in front of kids and meet kids," Brady said. 

The nonprofit continues to assist, at the baseball fields it helps build, with ongoing resources, such as training for volunteer coaches.

"We'll have a staff member assigned to this project," Brady said. "We're all in." 


Follow Ellyn Couvillion on Twitter, @EllynCouvillion.