"We didn't know about this event until today," James Phillips said. "Brandon drove up and we saw his name on the field. Immediately, I started shaking and got nervous. I'm so happy today, I don't know what to do. I'm happy and proud and glad to be here."
As part of its ongoing field renovation program, the Reds Community Fund has remodeled, refurbished or rebuilt about 250 youth baseball fields in Greater Cincinnati, Kentucky and Sarasota, Fla.
At Clark Montessori's temporary home at the old Cincinnati Academy of Physical Education, the baseball team had no field of its own to play home games. It was playing at an old softball field in Oakley Park. The school will eventually move to its new home in Hyde Park, but its varsity and junior varsity teams will always call Brandon Phillips Field the permanent home for their baseball teams.
The field will also be used by hundreds of other kids from Cincinnati's Reviving Baseball in the Inner Cities (RBI) program.
"Our outreach to the community is pretty simple," Reds chief operating officer Phil Castellini said. "We want kids playing baseball. We want them playing on fields that are worthy of playing on, without broken glass and rocks."
To make that happen was quite an effort, and was it was spearheaded by Clark's head coach Tim Oakes, who took over the job 1 1/2 years ago. After getting the school's boosters involved, Oakes applied for the RCF's field-renovation grant.
"It was pretty much a field that was overgrown," Oakes said. "Baseball was played here 20 years ago, but there was nothing left but an old backstop that was falling down. Four-feet high weeds, and that was pretty much it. I love it. We couldn't be happier. It's been a journey, but meeting all the people along the way has been tremendous. We've had so many people show up and help. That's the only way it gets done."
"I give them props for playing on it before we did something to it," Phillips said. "I saw all kinds of stuff on the field -- stuff the public shouldn't know about."
According to Oakes, the project cost about $65,000, plus endless hours of sweat equity. Phillips initially made a $25,000 personal donation and later added $7,500, which he received for being named the Reds' 2008 Roberto Clemente Award winner for community service. The RCF contributed over $20,000 as part of the field-renovation program and a new partnership with Cincinnati Public Schools. Labor and materials, including dirt to signage to dugout shingles, were donated by several local companies, parents and boosters in the community.
"It's nice that the kids will have somewhere to play and enjoy the game the way I enjoyed the game," Phillips said. "I will come out once in a while and check on the kids and see how my field is doing. I think it's a blessing to have a chance to have a field named after you."
There was another stunner for someone during the opening of the field. Andrew Marty recently celebrated his 10th birthday and used it as a fundraising vehicle for the field-renovation program.
"I told everyone that instead of presents, to bring money for the Reds' fund program and I raised $225 for it," said Marty, who presented a check to Castellini and Community Fund director Charley Frank during the ceremony. "I think other people deserve stuff some people have. "
Marty, who hails from Wyoming, Ohio, plays in the Reds' Knothole baseball match program, which pairs kids from suburban teams to play with and against inner-city teams. His parents didn't tell him beforehand that he was going to meet Phillips, his favorite Reds player.
"All we said was we were meeting Mr. Frank here to hand him the money," Andrew's mother, Kendall Marty, said. "He had no idea. We kept this as a surprise."
Besides his father, Phillips was joined at the dedication ceremony by his mother, Lue, and sister Porsha, who is a college basketball player for the University of Georgia. Later, they all participated in the ribbon cutting before Brandon Phillips threw out the ceremonial first pitch to break in the new facility.
"My mom always told me to give back," Phillips said. "If it wasn't for my mom and my dad, I wouldn't be the athlete or the man I am today. I thank them for everything I've done."