WATERVILLE — Lee Smith stepped on to the not-quite-done turf at Fran Purnell Wrigley Field and smiled.

“You’re going to spoil the kids, man,” Smith said. “We didn’t have fields like this when we played.”

One of the greatest relief pitchers in Major League Baseball history, Smith was on hand for the ceremonial ground breaking ceremony for the refurbished Purnell Field. When completed and ready for play next spring, Purnell Field will be a youth baseball-sized replica of Wrigley Field, home to the Chicago Cubs.

Former Major League Baseball reliever Lee Smith, center, smiles during a Fran Purnell Wrigley Field ceremony Wednesday in Waterville.

Former Major League Baseball reliever Lee Smith, center, smiles during a Fran Purnell Wrigley Field ceremony Wednesday in Waterville. Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

Smith retired in 1997 with 478 saves, still third most all time behind Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman. Smith played the first eight seasons of his 18-year career with the Cubs. Wrigley Field holds a special place in his heart, Smith said.

“This reminds me of home,” Smith said. “I threw my first pitch in the majors at Wrigley in 1980.”

When complete, Purnell Wrigley Field will join Oakland’s Harold Alfond Fenway Park as the only two turf fields licensed by Major League Baseball in the country, according to Ken Walsh, CEO of the Boys and Girls Clubs and YMCA at the Alfond Youth Center.

“Obviously, this field is a dream come true for the community,” Walsh said.

Ken Walsh, executive director of the Alfond Center, introduces former big league relief pitcher Lee Smith, left, during a Fran Purnell Wrigley Field ceremony Wednesday in Waterville.

Ken Walsh, executive director of the Alfond Center, introduces former big league relief pitcher Lee Smith, left, during a Fran Purnell Wrigley Field ceremony Wednesday in Waterville. Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

Walsh said he expects the turf will be complete in a few more days. From there, dugouts and concession stands must be built, along with a replica of Wrigley Field’s iconic center field scoreboard.

“By spring of next year, you’ll see the Wrigley scoreboard,” Walsh said. “The kids are going to come out here and say, ‘Yeah, this is Wrigley.'”

Real ivy will be planted to grow on the outfield walls, Walsh said.

The facility will continue to carry the name of Fran Purnell, for whom the field it’s replacing is named. Purnell coached youth baseball in Waterville for more than 45 years and still coaches the Challenger Division, which is for children with disabilities.

Walsh and Smith were joined by Waterville Parks and Recreation Department Director Matt Skehan as well as Waterville city councilor Sidney Mayhew.

“What’s happened here in the last two or three months is incredible,” Skehan said. “Hundreds, if not thousands, of kids are going to have a blast on this field.”

Along with Waterville youth baseball, the field is expected to host an array of tournaments. This new field, combined with Harold Alfond Fenway Park and new baseball and softball facilities at Colby College, give the Waterville area the opportunity to host large tournaments, Walsh said.

Ken Walsh, right, listens as former MLB relief pitcher Lee Smith talks about baseball at during a Fran Purnell Wrigley Field ceremony Wednesday in Waterville.

Ken Walsh, right, listens as former MLB relief pitcher Lee Smith talks about baseball at during a Fran Purnell Wrigley Field ceremony Wednesday in Waterville. Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

Representing the Cubs and Major League Baseball, Smith was an enthusiastic supporter of Purnell Wrigley Field. Smith, who also played two seasons with the Boston Red Sox, was equally impressed with Harold Alfond Fenway Park.

“I think this is going to be a starting point. I think you’re going to see these things pop up all over the country,” said Smith, who hopes to return to Waterville next May to throw out the first pitch when Purnell Wrigley Field opens. “That scoreboard, I was raised on that scoreboard. The Green Monster, I was raised on that.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]m

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.