Rays to help revamp Little League fields

Rays to refurbish Little League fields

ST. PETERSBURG -- Scott Kazmir practically grew up on the baseball diamond, as the Houston native said the Little League field, located next to his house, was "everything" to him.

"We just had the facilities over there, and it made it that much more special," he said.

Thursday morning, Kazmir was a fixture in helping four Little League teams in Brandon, Fla., feel the same way. The 24-year-old Rays ace was on hand for a ceremony announcing plans to renovate the South Brandon Little League field using a grant from the Rays Baseball Foundation.

In signing a contract extension this season, Kazmir is one of several Rays who have donated portions of their long-term deals to the Rays Baseball Foundation.

"All players whom we have signed to long-term contracts have made significant financial commitments to the Rays Baseball Foundation," Rays president Matt Silverman said. "Their support allows the Rays to do even more in the community, in this case renovating two youth ballfields."

The Rays have also selected Azalea Little League in St. Petersburg, and will team up with J.O. DeLotto and Sons, Wal-Mart, Champs Sports, Danielle Fence, Signs Now and Rays players Kazmir and Evan Longoria to make major improvements to the two fields.

"As a Major League baseball player, it's really exciting to know that I'm helping to make fields better for today's children," Kazmir said. "It always feels great to give back, especially when it is helping to promote a sport that has given me so much."

All four teams that use the South Brandon facility were on hand Thursday morning as Kazmir spoke to the Little Leaguers about his own days playing baseball as a young kid.

Tuesday afternoon, Longoria conveyed the same message to a group in St. Petersburg.

"I was fortunate enough growing up in California to have a great Little League program and fields to play on, fields that we all took pride in," Longoria said. "As a member of the Rays, that's what we want here in our community, to provide the best opportunities we can for our young people."

The renovations at both fields are expected to start in the next several weeks, and look to be completed by October.

At Azalea Park, the renovation work includes replacing infield sod, adding 200 tons of clay and two tons of clay conditioner, applying fertilizer and weed control, replacing the fence and backstop, adding a windscreen on the outfield fence and repairing the field's electrical service.

At South Brandon, the improvements will include replacing infield sod, adding 200 tons of clay and two tons of clay conditioner, applying fertilizer and weed control, replacing the backstop and improvements to the fence, replacing the bleacher roofs and improving drainage from the dugouts.

"It's humbling, seeing these kids just so excited right now," Kazmir said. "I would also like to see their faces after everything is done, because I guarantee they are going to love it."

The Rays refurbished the fields at West Tampa Little League in 2007 and historic Oliver Field at Campbell Park in St. Petersburg in 2006.

"We have a terrific partnership with the Rays and are thrilled to be overseeing these projects with them," J.O. DeLotto and Sons CEO and chairman Lyle Blanden said. "We're proud to provide our services to make these fields great places for kids to play baseball."

Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.