Play ball! Claude Walker Ball Park reopens

A baseball team that just got new cleats sits on the field during the official ceremony to re-open Claude Walker Ball Park.

The kids sat patiently in uniform while the adults talked about the reopening of Claude Walker Ball Park and then took the field after a brief ceremony to play baseball.

That is exactly what GEM Community Development Group, Emerald Youth Foundation and the City of Knoxville had envisioned a year ago after forming a partnership to renovate the park. A philanthropic gift of more than $1.6 million from GEM Community Development Group sparked the transformation, which included new synthetic turfs, dugouts, lights, foul poles, scoreboards, covered batting cage, concessions, restrooms and on-site storage.

“GEM believes in the power of youth sports,” said Randy Boyd, who joked that the kids were ready for the adults to leave the field so they could play ball. “A thriving ballpark is not only a place for happy, healthy young people but also serves as a community gathering spot. Claude Walker Ball Park means so much to so many, and we are thrilled to play a small part in revitalizing it for future generations to enjoy.”

From left, Doug Kirchhofer, CEO of Boyd Sports; City Council Member Gwen McKenzie; Randy Boyd; and State Rep. Sam McKenzie. (Photo: Cynthia Moxley)

Boyd, founder of Boyd Sports, is bringing baseball back to Knoxville as part of a project to build a publicly owned stadium on the edge of the Old City – less than three miles from the site of the May 19 re-opening celebration at Claude Walker Ball Park.

GEM Community Development Group, led by Knoxville native Steve Davis, is overseeing more than $100 million in private development around the stadium, which will include a hotel, residential units, retail and restaurants and bars. The transformation of Claude Walker Ball Park – an earlier blog post can be read HERE – is part of the community investment connected to the new stadium project.

“Claude Walker Ball Park is where I grew up playing, and my children play there today,” said Kaylin Chesney, director of youth ministries for the east/south area for Emerald Youth. “According to a study we completed several years ago, fewer than 20 percent of young people in Knoxville’s city neighborhoods re playing a sport of any kind, and youth participation in baseball and softball has been on the decline.

“This investment is such a blessing and has dramatically transformed the park for our city’s youth to enjoy for years to come.”

Randy Boyd, center, with the Reds team.

Members of Austin-East Magnet High School’s softball and baseball teams attended the ceremony. Chesney also is the coach for the new Austin-East baseball team to revitalize the program. The softball team also will use the field for its high school season. It was noted that for the programs to thrive, a system of getting players onto the field as young children is vital.

The city owns the park, and Emerald Youth Foundation served as project manager in partnership with the city and Elite Diversified Construction Inc., a minority-owned general contractor located in the heart of Knoxville.

“Partnerships are key as we look to provide a better quality of life for people all across our city,” Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon said. “The investment at Claude Walker Ball Park is so much more than just physical improvements. This project is about increasing access, breaking down barriers and bringing people together. Thank you to everyone who helped make this day a reality.”

The ball park, located at 2945 Wilson Ave., will be used by Center City Youth Sports Programs, Central Athletic Youth Association (Inskip), Holston Chilhowee Recreation Commission, Knoxville Area Youth Alliance (formerly East Knox Athletic Association), Knoxville Falcons Youth Organization, Mechanicsville Community Athletics Association, South Knoxville Youth Sports and Emerald Youth Foundation.

Sanford Miller, director of Sports Ministry for Emerald Youth Foundation, conducts an interview with WATE after the reopening May 19 of Claude Walker Ball Park. Randy Boyd greets a supporter in the background.

The gift from GEM Community Development Group also will provide a recurring operational investment to support youth sports within the city for uniforms and equipment, ensuring that current and future teams have the gear needed to play.

A new stadium in Knoxville isn’t just good for the downtown area. It’s good for all of us.

Play ball.