For old-timers around Northern Kentucky who spent their youth playing baseball at Covington’s Meinken Field, a smooth infield with no lip or an outfield with no hills just won’t seem right.
“The lip in the infield always made things interesting – didn’t know if staying down on the ball would result in a ball to the face,” said Paul Laible, who played shortstop for Holy Cross High School from 2005-06. “The hills in the outfield were similar to the lip in the infield, when charging in you never knew where the ball was going to go. Overall, somehow there weren’t as many injuries as you would think.”
Student-athletes at Holmes and Holy Cross High Schools will no longer have to worry themselves with such hazards at Meinken All-Star Field, as it’s now known. Their home baseball field recently had new turf installed in the infield and outfield as part of a major upgrade that rid the Covington landmark of its unique characteristics that have humbled youth ballplayers for years. Representatives from Major League Baseball, the Cincinnati Reds, the City of Covington, and both high schools gathered along with a few hundred spectators for a ribbon cutting ceremony to unveil the field’s new look Monday morning.
Fox Sports Ohio’s Jim Day was the master of ceremonies for the event. Those in attendance also heard from Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred, Reds CEO Bob Castellini, Covington Mayor Sherry Carran, Covington Schools Superintendent Alvin Garrison, Director of Umpiring for the MLB and Holmes High School graduate Randy Marsh, and former Reds pitcher Tom Browning.
After the ceremony, Holmes’ and Holy Cross’ baseball programs led a youth camp on the newly renovated field.
In addition to the immaculate new turf, which alternates between a light and dark green pattern in 10-yard increments in the outfield, upgrades to Meinken included fencing, bullpens, dugouts lights, other electrical wiring, a scoreboard and improvements to the parking lot.
The Meinken renovation is just one of nine field makeovers in Southwest Ohio, Northern Kentucky and Dayton this year as part of Major League Baseball’s annual community legacy program. It was also the biggest as evidenced by the ribbon-cutting ceremony being held just one day before the All-Star Game when Commissioner Manfred was in town and able to attend.
“(Meinken) has been a jewel here in Covington for over 50 years,” Manfred said. “And Major League Baseball is proud to be part of preserving this great legacy.”
Covington Independent Schools bought Meinken Field from the City of Covington in October of 2014 for $28,000 so that the high schools’ athletic programs could maintain it to their standards. Now, the site will require little maintenance.
Workers broke ground on construction April 28, according to Eric Neff, the school district’s Director of Personnel who supervised the field renovation for Covington Independent Schools. Neff estimates that the field serves “hundreds” of student-athletes every year, and will now be able to benefit even more, as he expects other Holmes and Holy Cross athletic teams and groups – such as football, soccer and band – to use the turf outfield for occasional practices. He said he could also envision area schools renting out the facility to avoid potential rainouts, and other local organizations will still have access as well.
“As far as overall community goes, we have hundreds of kids that use the field,” Neff said. “All the community partnerships will continue on. Naturally there will be a process in order to be able to use the field due to liability issues now that Covington Schools own it, but tons of kids will still play on this field every year.”
The sheer amount of kids impacted was a big reason Meinken was selected by the MLB and the Reds, according to Castellini.
“Meinken was hand selected as one of the nine MLB Legacy projects with deference to the rich youth baseball tradition in Covington,” he said.
Other fields that were renovated as part of the MLB Legacy project include Howell Field in Dayton, Ohio; the Withrow High School Fields in Bond Hill; the Don Johnson Field at the Procter & Gamble Cincinnati MLB Urban Youth Academy in Roselawn; Queensgate Field; and Dyer Fields in the West End.
The Reds Community Fund and MLB donated over $5 million in total to the All-Star Legacy project this year. The Reds Community Fund raises money throughout the year with special events, Split the Pot raffles at Reds games, and direct donations via their website, redscommunityfund.com. The organization started renovating local baseball fields back in 2006 and has made its mark on more than 350 fields to date around Greater Cincinnati and other surrounding areas. In total, the Reds pour over $1 million annually into youth baseball and softball programs.