With Opening Day set for Feb. 24, the Sterlington Sports Complex will soon be a reality.
Is this Heaven? No, it's Sterlington.
As the Sterlington Sports Complex rises from what was once farm land on Highway 136, it would be easy to imagine Shoeless Joe Jackson inquiring to Kevin Costner in regards to his whereabouts before disappearing into a corn field.
With Opening Day set for Saturday, Feb. 24, the state-of-the-art Sterlington Sports Complex is all but a reality.
Funded through a half-cent tax passed by the citizens of Sterlington, the undertaking is designed to become a premier destination for baseball and softball travel tournaments while generating revenue for the local economy.
"It's a win-win complex," said Sterlington Alderman Kerry Elee, who has helped spearhead the project. "The town is going to win because of the increase in tax collection. Restaurants and motels are going to win. All the local businesses are going to win. Most of all, the kids are going to win."
Along with the sales tax, the complex has benefitted from several grants.
"The Monroe/West Monroe Convention and Visitors Bureau has been an awesome supporter of the complex and our vision for the future of the travel tournament industry in Ouachita Parish," Elee said. "We have been awarded multiple grants by CVB that have enabled us to provide various amenities for the facility. We look forward to continuing this partnership for years to come."
Phase I of the five-year plan began last spring.
Twelve fields — five 375-foot high school baseball fields, five 200-foot softball fields and two 100-foot T-Ball fields — highlight the initial development. All baseball and softball fields will have turf infields and grass outfields, while the T-Ball diamonds will be completely turf.
Although construction crews have been hindered by the weather, Elee remains optimistic that the complex will be fully ready in time for the USSSA Mardi Gras youth baseball tournament on Feb. 24.
"We were actually a little head of schedule, but the weather has been giving us fits since Christmas," Elee said. "It's either been too cold or too wet. The contractors are doing what they can, when they can. We are still on target for the Feb. 23 completion date."
One area, in particular, that has been affected by the elements is the parking lots. Rainfall over the weekend delayed the pouring of the concrete, yet again. However, considerable progress was made Thursday on the parking area, concession stands and T-Ball fields, and benches were installed in several of the dugouts.
Upon completion of Phase I, the SSC will take its place among the best baseball/softball venues in the Gulf South. In fact, the new park will be the only complex in the state capable of hosting five high school baseball games simultaneously.
"The biggest thing that sets us apart is the 375-foot baseball fields," Elee said. "You would have to go a long way — maybe Dallas or Atlanta — to find a five-pod of 375-foot fields."
Response to the new facility has already exceeded expectations. In all, the SSC is scheduled to host 47 tournaments in its inaugural season from early February through November.
Multiple tournaments are booked for eight weekends.
With the use of temporary fencing, the complex has the capability of hosting up to 10 softball and youth baseball games at the same time. Each pod will have its own ticket gate/entrance, concessions, restrooms and umpires meeting area.
"We have 47 tournaments on the book, covering 39 weekends, and there is a waiting list for other events," Elee said.
One of the biggest events on the 2018 schedule is the annual Trey Altick Tournament set for March 1-3. With 37 games on the docket, the SSC is the primary host site for the annual tournament which attracts high school teams from throughout the state.
Among the other notable upcoming tournaments are the Ouachita Lady Lions' Softball Classic (March 9-10), the USSSA Super NIT (May 25-27), the Dixie Majors 19u World Series (July 27-Aug. 1) and the 2D Sports High School Showcase (Aug. 11-12). In 2019, the SSC has been awarded all three Dixie Majors World Series.
"Of the 47 tournaments, 26 are new to northeast Louisiana, which is going to mean new money for the parish," Elee said. "We were able to get a majority of the tournaments due to the 375-foot fields."
Four adult slow-pitch softball tournaments will be played at the SSC, including the Softball Players Association 55-and-over senior tournament (April 12-15), and the the Heroes Sports Military Tournament (Sept. 1-2).
Activities for youth in the immediate area include a school baseball league, recreation baseball/softball leagues, as well as an adult softball league in the fall.
Featuring four divisions (grades 3-4, 5-6, 7th and 8th) the NELA school league will begin Feb. 26 and run through late March.
"We had 40 schools sign up from as far west as Cedar Creek, as far east as Delhi and as far north as Crossett, Arkansas," Elee said.
Details for the summer rec league (ages 3-18) are in the process of being finalized.
This is only the beginning for the SSC. Eventual plans call for an expansion to 27 fields.
Other long-term plans call for soccer fields, tennis courts, a skateboard park, a splash pad, a walking/cross country track and a gymnasium.
By the time all is said and done, the Sterlington Sports Complex will truly be be a field of dreams.