St. Monica hits a 'Grand Slam' with new field project
|Flanked by members of the St. Monica parish community, Astros pitcher Brandon Backe waves to fans as he is introduced before the Houston Astros played the Chicago Cubs at Minute Maid Park, Sept. 30. St. Monica Church was selected as the recipient of the Grand Slam for Youth Baseball Field Makeover, facilitated by the Houston Astros and the makers of Minute Maid. Pictured are Houston Astros owner Drayton McLane, TOP LEFT; Mike Saint John, Minute Maid general manager; Backe; Father Neal Stull, S.O.L.T., St. Monica pastor; and Cliff Adams, St. Monica director of youth sports ministry. In front are some of St. Monica's little league players.
By JONAH DYCUS
Herald Staff Writer
HOUSTON - Cliff Adams had a pretty convincing case in his corner when he drafted the essay submitted to the 2006 Grand Slam for Youth Baseball Field Makeover contest.
With the exception of the little league field Adams and St. Monica Church members constructed on the parish grounds, there was not a baseball diamond to be found in the Acres Homes community in north Houston. On top of that (literally), their field was littered with rocks which had to be "swept" by the young baseball players before every game and practice.
"We always lined the kids up and walked the field to pick up the rocks. But when it rains, other rocks resurface," said Adams, the director of youth sports ministry at St. Monica. Also, the teams had to travel 30 minutes to compete in a league outside of their community.
Adams laughed, "I wrote of the whole horror story about baseball in the Acres Homes Community."
Fortunately, this is one story that will have a very happy ending. The Grand Slam project, facilitated through a partnership between the Houston Astros and the makers of Minute Maid, ultimately selected St. Monica as the beneficiary from dozens of entries.
Now, two fields (one t-ball, one machine-pitch) at the church will be refurbished. Improvements to the overhauled complex will include permanent fencing, an electronic scoreboard, bleachers with safety railings, dugout covers and a flagpole.
"Everyone here is really excited. It is all for the youth and we are just so thrilled for them," said Father Neal Stull, S.O.L.T., St. Monica's pastor. "The kids are just pumped. When we had a meeting about the project, some of the kids came wearing their uniforms. They are just beaming."
As an added bonus, members of St. Monica and several of the young players were treated to a Sept. 30 Astros game. Before the matchup against the Chicago Cubs, Father Stull, Adams and the players were spotlighted at homeplate with Astros owner Drayton McLane, Minute Maid general manager Mike Saint John and Astros pitcher Brandon Backe via Minute Maid Park's video system.
"That was really neat," said seven-year-old Devon Meachum, in a short interview after he and his fellow players were seated.
Kenneth Adams, seven, looked over his shoulder as the crowd cheered an early out. "This has been fun," he smiled.
Father Stull views the field project as not only a lift to the children, but the St. Monica parish as a whole.
"We try to let the kids know we have a big commitment towards the youth program here, whether it be sports ministry or anything else," Father Stull said. "(Grand Slam) benefits our kids, but it goes beyond that. This is really going to benefit the community."
As a life-long member of St. Monica, Adams realizes the importance of staying involved in his church via sports and activities; it is a value he and his siblings have never forgotten.
"We started playing baseball at St. Monica when we were growing up, so we wanted to bring that experience back to St. Monica," said Adams, who along with his brothers, has been making that happen in the past five years through the Acres Homes Youth Association. "Baseball is a real confidence builder for the kids. Today's kids don't get that much time to go out and do exercises, so baseball is a great way for them to do both."
Father Stull agrees. "The kids are the future of the Church, and (baseball) has been a fun way for them to stay active, to stay busy. And that is what many of the people voiced at our meeting."
The priest is also inspired by some of the early design decisions regarding his parish's new sporting complex. "I believe that homeplate is going be right in the back of our church, so that our kids are pointed in the opposite direction (when batting)," he said. "So if they get a hold of one, it will not break out any church windows." The pastor, a self-declared baseball enthusiast, then chucked, "If they can avoid any church windows being broken, that would be cool."
With speculation of another complex being constructed in the area, Acres Homes baseball may have a new look next year; the Grand Slam field project is scheduled for completion by Spring 2006. "We should be in an ideal spot to have little league baseball here," Adams said. "We are looking forward to a 2006 baseball little league in Acres Homes with more than 300 kids playing."
Jordan Jeanlouis, 11, is thrilled about his parish's new park and anticipates a visit or two from some of the Astros' players upon its completion.
"This has been great, how they are helping us out," he said. "We are going to have more room to play. I am just looking forward to seeing the new field."
In addition to his excitement about the field overhaul, Ashton Harris has high hopes for the Astros this postseason. "They are a great team," the 10-year-old grinned. "I think they have a chance at winning it all."