WATERVILLE — Fran Purnell looked at the new youth baseball field, the second one on this spot to bear his name, and smiled.

“It’s just unbelievable,” Purnell said. “I told them we had a perfectly good field and they don’t have to do that, but they wanted to. It blew my mind. It really blew my mind.”

On Saturday morning, Purnell Wrigley Field was dedicated and then officially hosted its first games. The field is a youth-baseball sized replica of Chicago’s Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs, who won the World Series last fall for the first time since 1908. The rebuilding of Purnell Field began last summer, when the artificial turf was installed. The now completed field features a replica of Wrigley’s famous center field scoreboard. The clock on the Purnell Wrigley scoreboard is forever set to 12:47, the time of day when the Cubs clinched their World Series win last November.

Former Major League pitcher Lee Smith was on hand for the ceremony Saturday. Smith played the first eight seasons of his 18-year big league career with the Cubs. He retired in 1997 with 478 career saves, still third most all time behind Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman.

Smith visited Purnell Wrigley Field last September, when only the turf had been installed. On Saturday, he marveled at the complete ballpark.

“I look at the scoreboard now finished, and the turf and everything. It’s really awesome. It reminds me so much of Wrigley with the background, with the houses back there,” Smith said, as he sat in the third base dugout prior to the opening ceremony. “The kids don’t realize how good they have it.”


Smith pointed at the mound, and the center field fence, just 220 feet from home plate.

“When I was out there (at Wrigley) pitching a few times, I think that wall was about that close. My first few days in the big leagues, I would just walk around Wrigley Field. To see this, and see all the people here early, it’s unbelievable,” Smith said.

Purnell coached youth baseball in Waterville for more than 45 years and still coaches the Challenger Division, which is for children with disabilities. His photo is featured in the first base dugout. Waterville native Paul Mitchell, who was recently selected for the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame, is featured in the third base dugout. At the flag pole are monuments to John Winkin, who coached collegiate baseball at Colby and the University of Maine, and was one of the founders of Waterville Little League; and Clyde Sukeforth, the Maine native who signed Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers. Ken Walsh, the chief executive officer of the Alfond Youth Center, said another monument will be unveiled when Purnell Wrigley Field hosts the New England Cal Ripken 11-year old championships in July.

Like its cousin, Harold Alfond Fenway Park in Oakland, Purnell Wrigley Field is officially licensed by Major League Baseball. The field costs $1.4 million, Walsh said, with $600,000 in the form of in-kind contributions.

“That means there’s $600,000 of electricians, plumbers, carpenters, corporate support, in order to help develop this special field,” Walsh said. “These fields are special fields. The bottom line is, it’s a community effort.”

The new field also attracted more players, Walsh said.


“We had 90 kids last year. This year we have 200. What does that say? It’s doing the trick,” Walsh said.

Highlights of the opening ceremony included a proclamation read by Waterville Mayor Nick Isgro, a parade of every team in the Waterville youth baseball and softball leagues, and a first pitch featuring Purnell throwing to Smith.

Smith said he hopes more children play baseball or softball, because of the life lessons the game teaches.

“That’s what baseball does, it makes kids depend on one another. You can go out there and hit four home runs and get beat 10-4,” Smith said. “You learn yourself, and what you can do.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242


Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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