“I love the sounds of a wooden bat and ball.”
So said David Wooten of Frankfort. Wooten’s dream is to build a $200 million indoor stadium with the primary focus on baseball, especially Little League.
For Wooten, this is more than an indoor field of dreams. He believes people will support the dream and fund its construction. So in 2007, Wooten formed a nonprofit called Step Up to the Plate, Play Indoor Baseball, NFP to help attain that goal.
Wooten declined to disclose the amount thus far raised. But he said he is raising money and is looking at seven potential sites in Will and Grundy counties, although he will look at other areas in Illinois if those don’t work out.
His website – www.playindoorbaseball.com – has a mission statement, descriptions, a donation page, frequently asked questions and generic drawings of what the stadium could look like.
“It is, in fact, a modified Major League Baseball stadium,” Wooten said.
He envisions 400,000 square feet, a 150-foot-tall ceiling, 20,000 seats, concessions, batting cages and pitching areas. Additional features include synthetic turf, LEED-certified lighting and a swimming pool, Wooten said.
Wooten said construction of the stadium will take two to three years and potentially create hundreds of jobs in the trades for Illinois workers.
“The whole idea for this stadium is to be self-sustaining,” he said. “We want benefactors to come in, write the checks, build the stadium and have no mortgage. We only want to have operating expenses. … Because we’re nonprofit, everything goes back in the stadium.”
In addition to Little League, the stadium could be used for national and international conventions, agricultural shows, military and veteran events, as well as concerts and car shows, Wooten said.
Because of its size, the stadium could host half a dozen events on the same day.
“I want to dramatically increase access to recreation,” Wooten said, “through baseball.”
Wooten has great memories of playing Little League on Lou Boudreau Field in Harvey. The site was impeccable. Every blade of grass was trimmed, and every chalk line was straight.
“We played under lights. Can you imagine that, at 8, 9 and 10 years old?” Wooten said. “But we did have weather and we did have rainouts.”
Inclement weather – rain, sleet and sometimes snow – is a scourge of Little League, and every child who plays faces it, Wooten said. Then Wooten realized Mother Nature didn’t always know best.
Years later, Wooten was coaching Little League in Country Club Hills when wet weather canceled an entire spring break of practices. “There has to be a better way,” Wooten thought.
With an indoor baseball stadium, Little League can become an all-weather, year-round game, Wooten said. Working parents, single parents and grandparents would have more opportunities to watch their children and grandchildren play.
And only a nonprofit would do.
That’s because Wooten said he believes in partnerships, donations and community support, a perspective formed when he – as a boy – raised money for Little League through business advertisements on booster cards.
“I want to bring back the good era of baseball I had as a kid,” Wooten said.