OAKLAND, Maine —- Boston Red Sox legend and Hall of Famer Jim Rice gave some advice to young athletes during the dedication of a new artificial turf field at Harold Alfond Fenway Park Saturday.
“To be able to have a field like this to [play on], and to think that one day you could play in a major league ballpark … Cherish it. Enjoy it. Make it your home. Take care of it.” said Rice, the guest of honor at the ceremony. “I never had something like this growing up.”
The field’s renovation, which cost around $500,000, was funded through donations from a number of organizations including the the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, the Red Sox Foundation, Kennebec Savings and the MLB Baseball Tomorrow fund, which donated $100,000.
Rice hit 382 home runs with the Red Sox, but left Saturday’s hitting up to the young players.
“You can’t get me to pick up a bat and hit one over the wall. That’s not gonna happen … I’m not trying to make a comeback, I’m not trying to impress anyone, I’m not trying to pull anything.” Rice said, to which the audience responded with both amusement and disappointment.
The Mini Fenway Park, which was established in 2007, is licensed by the Boston Red Sox and Major League Baseball and features a 66 percent scale replica of the iconic Green Monster in left field. The turf, which was supplied by Northeast Turf out of Portland, took approximately 10 days to install, according to company CEO John Huard.
“[With turf] you can play in any conceivable [weather] condition,” Huard said. “There have been studies at colleges who [have artificial turf fields] for baseball and all of the colleges that have [turf fields] have higher fielding percentages … because it allows the ball to bounce true [and be more predictable].”
The excitement of the sponsors and representatives was dwarfed by that of the four Little League teams from Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont that were gathered to start an eight-game round robin tournament.
“I think these kids on the [first-base line] on the field right now [want] to play the game of baseball. They’re not in the mood to hear me talk.” Rice joked. “They came here to play baseball and hit it over the Green Monster.”
Rice also had something to say to all of the parents of the athletes.
“Enjoy the game, enjoy your kids, and stick with [them]. Through the ups and the downs.” Rice said to rousing applause.
Following his speech, Rice was given the honor of throwing the first pitch from the new portable mound, which can be moved to allow softball or baseball games to be played. After throwing a satisfactory number of strikes (and balls), Rice signed the ball and gave it to the catcher, 13-year-old Daniel Gaunce from Waterville.
“Being here on behalf of the [MLB Baseball Tomorrow Fund] it’s so great to see the kids actually on the field and how excited they are to play, and our hope whenever we award a grant is that it will expand the program and get more kids out to play baseball and softball. It’s wonderful to see it in person.” said Elizabeth Mainiero, Grant Coordinator for the MLB Baseball Tomorrow Fund.