Field of Dreams: Rifle residents, coaches excited about completion of $1.3M Cooper Field project
Citizen Telegram Sports Editor
Plenty of positive feedback has been given to the Rifle Parks & Recreation Department about the new facilities at Cooper Field — facilities that haven’t even seen their first baseball game yet.
“There’s some places over on the Front Range that our funding won’t be able to touch,” said Tom Whitmore, director of the Rifle Parks & Recreation Department. “But for us, we’ve heard people tell us that what we have is among the Top 2 in Western Colorado behind Suplizio Field. That’s a thrill for my staff and I to hear.”
Of course, Suplizio Field is home of the Division II World Series runners-up from Colorado Mesa University and the home of the annual National Junior College World Series. And Cooper Field, which is home of the Rifle High School baseball team, will debut with its new amenities when the Bears play a Class 4A Western Slope League doubleheader against Steamboat Springs beginning at 11 a.m. Saturday.
“This is a great thing for everybody involved,” Rifle High baseball coach and Athletic Director Troy Phillips said. “It gives the fans a real nice place to watch a game, and it gives us one of the nicest places in Colorado to play our games.”
The ballfield project isn’t completely finished, however. Whitmore said there is some landscaping the department would like to do to cosmetically enhance the outside of the ballfield. Some of the final stages of the facility’s construction might be finished right before the game — Whitfield said he’s hoping to have concrete leading to the grandstands from the Deerfield Park parking lot poured, and dried, no later than Friday.
When that’s completed, that pathway will lead to a set of stands that Whitmore said will seat upwards of 600 people. Behind the center grandstand is an announcer’s/press booth which can seat four people. Below that is a concession stand and restrooms for spectators, which they’ll see as they walk along a pathway lined by giant baseballs on one side and giant soccer balls on the other.
And that’s not all. Phillips added that the field’s dugouts have also been renovated to provide more room for storage and walking space. He added that the rec department’s ground crew did lots of touch-ups on the baseball field itself, replacing some of the worn spots and patches.
Plus, there’s something else Phillips is looking forward to: getting to use the ice machine in the concession stand for his player’s aching muscles instead of lugging it all the way down from Rifle High School up on Prefontaine Avenue.
“I’ve been looking forward to that for more than a year now,” Phillips said, laughing.
The total cost of the project, according to Whitmore, is close to $1.3 million. Close to half of it — $650,000 of it, to be exact — came from funding provided by Garfield School District Re-2, according to school district spokesperson Theresa Hamilton. That’s broken down to $50,000 for the initial planning of the ballfield, $300,000 in initial ballfield construction and $300,000 in the current construction project. Another $350,000 came from a Garfield County Federal Mineral Lease District grant.
Whitmore admitted that some baseball fields on the Front Range with better overall facilities receive funding from Major League Baseball’s Colorado Rockies, who can provide grant money that the all-encompassed cost of the project in Rifle won’t come close to. Still, Whitmore said the facility, when all the proverbial pieces are put into place, could draw big men’s league and little league baseball tournaments that, thanks to the out-of-town teams that come in, could bring a trickle-down effect of increased revenue into the area through hotels, restaurants and even tourist attractions.
“People had already been telling us how pleased they were with the playing surface here,” Whitmore said. “Now we’re able to enhance the experience for everyone.”
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