Sports Complex preps for tournament season


Rocky Mount Sports Complex employees J.R. Perry, left, and Vonqual Kirtz install home plate on one of the little league fields on March 19 at the Rocky Mount Sports Complex.


Staff Writer

Sunday, April 22, 2018

The whiteboard inside Lynn Driver’s office is full.

It filled up fast with ideas and tasks that came to mind, then put into words.

Driver became the supervisor for the Rocky Mount Sports Complex in July 2017, and over the next several months that list would grow. Some items were completed and erased, only to be filled with more ideas.

Driver is excited about his new position, as he is responsible for the way everything operates. No longer does he have to run ideas through a series of folks. Driver has a budget and does what he thinks is best.

“Prior to July, the man in my position now worked for park maintenance,” Driver said. “That person didn’t have the budget or authority to do some things. If they wanted special projects done they put it on a list and waited for it to get done. But in July when they moved the staff out here and increased my budget, the beauty in that is all these little things, all of them get done now.

“Stuff like painted foul poles or grass areas where it’s not growing or mulching around trees and cleaning up leaves. The little things that make a difference. It’s a blessing now that we have some control over things like that.”

As the city’s athletic supervisor for 20 years before taking his current position, Driver is always thinking about how he can improve both the quality of play for athletes who use the facilities, as well as easing the minds of spectators who may come from various states.

Each ball field is marked — there’s 11 of them, so it can be confusing for some to find the proper field. Six baseball fields and five softball fields, as well as a host of soccer fields.

Driver’s office, tucked away inside the main concession stand structure at the complex, acts as a planning room of sorts. Ideas like re-painting the foul poles, fixing drainage issues on the soccer fields or coordinating the delivery and purchase of supplies are completed and managed here.

The complex is gearing up for a large baseball tournament beginning April 28-29. Part of the selling point for hosting large tournaments — like the TopGun tournament next weekend — is the professional feel of the facility. New scoreboards have been added, and the restrooms have received a face lift.

Even the infield dirt looks professional. Parents doing a load of laundry after a tournament might be the ones who notice the dirt the most. It’s a mixture of sand and clay, which gives the infield its red tint — and makes for filthy uniforms.

“If you see what it looked like before to what it looks like now, you’ll notice a big difference,” Driver said. “We changed to premium material. If you pick it up, it will run through your hand like sand — but if you squeeze it, it’s like clay. It’s nice stuff. It has a red look, kind of like major leagues. People come to us to hold their tournaments because it’s one of the nicest places to play.”

About every five years the complex performs what is called regrading, essentially resurfacing the fields. The cost is about $40,000, though about 60 percent of the cost is offset by a Coke sponsorship.

Even with tournament season reaching a full head of steam, the process to prepare is fairly streamlined. From March through October, the complex is home base to a number of tournaments and has the ability to host 60-70 teams at capacity.

The fields are almost always in use, with recreational league play throughout the week. Fields are upkept throughout the week. Ahead of a tournament, the staff at the complex learns how many teams will be in town for the weekend, and thus begins the journey to prepare for the masses.

“On Wednesday, we learn how many teams we’ll have, then we decide what fields they will need,” Driver said. “Baseball can be played at all 11 fields, and based on the age groups the dimensions might be different. The bases can be anywhere from 60, 65 to 75 feet. We also have portable fencing.”

The ball fields were designed to accommodate both softball and various levels of baseball. A portable mound can be moved to fit the correct pitching distances, while several holes were drilled at different distances mean that bases can be adjusted as well.

While the adjustable mound distance allows for a number of different levels of play to be held on a given field, the portable mound leaves a nasty scar. The finely manicured grass underneath the mound turned brown, and when the mound shifted, patches of dead grass appeared in the middle of the field.

So Driver found a solution. He and others went to the town of Cary, which was remodeling their turf fields. Cary ripped up some turf, and Driver was able to snag 20 rolls. He placed them under the mounds, so the field now looks uniform throughout.

“We put down 6-foot by 20-foot strips under the pitchers mound,” Driver said. “In the next month it will look like solid grass, and when we move the mound back and forth on the turf it won’t look like a bare spot.”

While Driver has field prep down to a science, the same goes for feeding the masses. It began as a trial and error of sorts to nail down the proper amount of food.

About 30 part-time employees work the two concession stands, along with four to five site managers that make sure things run smoothly on game days. The staff puts in a standard drink order about a week out, as well as a run to the local store to grab more necessary items.

As for the food, plenty of hot food arrives at various intervals.

“If we have, say, seven games, we know what to do,” Driver said. “If we have more, we know what to do with that.”

For a weekend tournament, like the one on April 28-29, it’s a standard order of 12 pizzas and 75 Chik-Fil-A sandwhiches at each concession stand. Orders come in at 10 a.m., noon and 2 p.m., with 150 sandwiches each time, or 75 at each stand. They may have a fourth order, based on how many games and people are left.