With a ribbon-cutting ceremony, fireworks, and free hot dogs for all, Evesham Township officials Wednesday dedicated a $5.3 million set of ball fields that promise to be nearly weatherproof.
The 13-acre site off Tuckerton Road, known as the Diamonds at Arrowhead Park, is home to two baseball fields and two softball fields built for young players. Outfield fences will sit 200 feet from home plate, and baselines will be 60 feet instead of 90.
Unlike Memorial Field across the way, the new fields have been laid atop six feet of dirt, sand, drainage pipes, and retention basins designed to put distance between the layer of clay, or "marl," that gives Evesham's central town its name, Marlton.
"This is arguably the finest facility in the state of New Jersey," Mayor Randy Brown told the crowd, most of whom were young children in red team T-shirts. He predicted it would be used for regional, state, and even national youth tournaments.
Brown went on to thank the members of the Township Council for supporting his dream of creating the fields.
"If they didn't vote to spend the money," he said, "this wouldn't have happened."
Apart from their reduced size, the four fields - with cinder-block dugouts, aluminum bleachers, turf outfields, and extensive netting to catch fly balls - have the look of a modern college facility.
About 1,700 youngsters play in more than 1,000 baseball and softball games between March and September, Joe Schooley, Marlton's baseball commissioner, told the crowd.
"This will move Marlton into the future," he said.
About two feet of clay sits under much of the central portion of the township. Mined in the 19th century as a fertilizer, it is now mostly an obstacle to drainage.
The ball fields at Memorial Field, built in 1997, are sometimes unplayable for days after a heavy rain.
Brown, who predicted that the new fields would serve as a "center of community life" for decades to come, ceremonially unveiled a plaque in honor of his late father, Councilman Rich Brown, for whom one of the fields is named.
"He ate, slept, and drank baseball," his widow, Eileen, told the crowd.
Councilman Ken D'Andrea dedicated a plaque in honor of his father, former Councilman Hank D'Andrea.
The other two fields have not yet been named, though they bear signs honoring major donors to their creation.
"Let us pray that no one gets hurt," the Rev. Jon Wegner, pastor of the Marlton Assembly of God, said in his invocation, "and that every team wins."