Expectations are always high for Stillwater baseball and softball and a team of supporters this week unveiled ambitious plans for upgraded facilities that would benefit both programs.
Nancy Matchey appeared before the District 834 School Board on Tuesday, Feb. 28 to introduce the “Ponies Better Together” campaign, which was created to raise money for developing first-class fields and a community gathering space at Stillwater Area High School.
Few details were presented during the three-minute address, but Matchey wanted to get the word out about the group of 11 community leaders dedicated to bringing this project to fruition.
“We are rallying to bring an enhanced experience to the players, the fans and the community as it relates to Pony baseball and softball,” Matchey told the board. “I am here to inform you of our plans and get you excited about what is coming.”
Though still in the early stages of planning, the group is hoping to build grandstands, concessions and restrooms, additional storage space, turf fields and lighting that would allow for night games.
The project would be paid for through fundraising and donations — large and small — with no anticipated financial contributions from the school district or taxpayers.
“We are starting with an empty wallet, but they have given us approval to proceed,” Matchey said.
Stillwater City Council member Mike Polehna joined Matchey in addressing the school board, recalling a similar effort that helped create the Jaycee Ball Fields in Stillwater four decades ago.
“The community didn’t think we could have ball fields for the kids, but we got it done,” Polehna said. “This lady (Matchey) is so organized, things are looking really good and I think we’re going to have a project that you can all be very proud of and support the kids of our community.”
Matchey, recently retired after a professional career in strategic business development leadership, has a daughter who played softball and a son who is a captain on this year’s Stillwater baseball team, which exposed her to the need for improved facilities. She has also been a volunteer in the St. Croix and Stillwater baseball programs for nearly a decade.
While the Stillwater baseball team ended last season with a state championship at pristine Target Field, it started late and with sub-par field conditions at SAHS last spring.
There have been significant improvements at SAHS in recent years with the addition of the Pony Activity Center and turf fields between the stadium and new tennis courts, but those upgrades did not extend to the baseball and softball fields.
“I’ve watched the maturity of the facilities at the high school come to be, except for baseball and softball,” Matchey said. “With the state wins and the championship teams, they deserve better facilities.
“We had a field last year we couldn’t even play on for a fraction of the season because it doesn’t drain. I said, let’s fix this and do it the right way.”
After talking to Ponies baseball coach Mike Parker in July, Matchey quickly started organizing and building her own team to start working on it. Matchey and John Hardgrove, a hall of fame baseball coach who is currently an assistant with the Ponies, visited six different facilities around the metro to help get some ideas for what they’d like to see at SAHS.
Initially focused on needs for the baseball program, Matchey said it only made sense to connect with the Ponies softball coach Angie Ryan to discuss working together. They quickly realized that softball, while in a more prominent location and closer to available parking at SAHS, was facing similar issues with drainage and lack of concessions and adequate restroom facilities.
“When it came time to put a program together, we realized they were in the same boat so let’s do this together with softball,” Matchey said. “We have a nice marriage of the community and business and education and we’re going big on this one. We want to really bring state-of-the-art facilities to both programs and move the baseball field closer to the softball field.”
Preliminary plans call for the varsity softball field to remain where it is, but the varsity baseball field would take over the space of the existing B Field, with home plate located in the northeast corner where the left-field corner sits today. The current site of the varsity field would become the B Field.
According to Matchey, District 834 Superintendent Dr. Mike Funk, Athletic Director Ricky Michel and the City of Oak Park Heights support pursuing the project, but now the hard work begins with the fundraising and community support. Those efforts began in earnest this week.
“Right now it’s more of an informational thing that is going on,” Matchey said. “Then we’re starting the conversations with potential large donors if they have an interest in having a community project like this. Right now we’re just fundraising for the design phase and that will be up to $30,000. We’re going to need some significant corporate donations.”
There was no shortage of community leaders willing to lend their support through the early planning stages and setting up social media accounts and a website with information on the “Better Together” initiative. Additional information is available at www.poniesbettertogether.org.
“We’ve got this great group of people and nobody has said no,” Matchey said. “These are people that all want to be involved and we’ve been meeting on a frequent basis. Right now we haven’t hit any road blocks. We keep moving ahead and everybody is thinking this is a great idea. It’s almost like following a snow plow, I don’t see any road blocks other than it’s a big fundraising effort.
“We all have our rally caps on.”
Contact Stuart Groskreutz at firstname.lastname@example.org
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