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FIELDS OF DREAMS: Rays, Pirates to team up to renovate Bradenton baseball fields

BRADENTON — The Tampa Bay Rays and Pittsburgh Pirates will combine efforts with the city of Bradenton and Champs Sports to renovate the baseball fields at the 13th Avenue Community Center this summer.

“What this will do for our baseball program, the neighborhood, the city is invaluable,” said Patrick Carnegie, executive director of the 13th Avenue Community Center.

The center has two baseball fields and a T-ball field at Norma Lloyd Park that accommodate the 110 players in its two programs — The Junior RBI Program, which has 80 players, and the RBI Program, which has 30.

The programs are sponsored in part by Major League Baseball’s Revive Baseball in the Inner Cities, a program that helped push Rays left-fielder Carl Crawford on the path toward a major league career.

Carnegie said the fences, lights, bleachers and fields could all use some form of repairs.

“It will be a great project once it gets rolling,” said Trevor Gooby, the Pittsburgh Pirates senior director of Florida operations.

Rays pitcher James Shields will donate money toward the renovation.

This will be the fifth field renovation sponsored by the Rays Baseball Foundation.

Through the team’s Field Renovation Program, the Rays have refurbished fields at Azalea Little League in St. Petersburg, the South Brandon Little League, the West Tampa Little League and Oliver Field at Campbell Park in St. Petersburg.

The center’s RBI program is aimed at getting kids interested in baseball with the hopes of instilling teamwork and discipline.

“It helps us send the message home with the kids,” Carnegie said.

Should one of them follow the footsteps of Crawford, he added, all the better.

Carnegie is pleased to see the interest shown by the two major league teams in his program.

The Pirates have held clinics at Pirate City for the players, and Shields will be on hand for the ceremony to announce the renovation details, tentatively scheduled for July 10 at the 13th Avenue Community Center.

“You never know what the RBI program might produce,” Carnegie said.

“The kids can reach out and touch someone in the major leagues, and with the renovations, you never know where that will take someone.”