USSSA's Field of Dreams
Space Coast Stadium undergoes renovation to become softball complex.
Work continues at Space Coast Stadium in Viera as the United States Specialty Sports Association remakes its new headquarters, the former spring training home of the Washington Nationals, into an amateur sports complex.
photo courtesy of USSSA Space Coast
The United States Specialty Sports Association is almost ready to play ball in its new Viera home.
Starting June 8, the amateur sports organization marks a new era at renovated Space Coast Stadium as the USSSA Pride of the National Pro Fastpitch League, a women’s softball league, hosts a three-game series against the Akron Racers.
The games follow a ceremonial groundbreaking April 27 at the stadium that launched a $32 million renovation project that will turn the former spring training home of the Washington Nationals into an amateur sports complex used mainly for baseball and softball.
“We’re going to try to move the whole office staff over there by the first week in May, then we’ll get ready for the season to kick off,” said Dan DeDonatis, chairman, executive director and CEO of USSSA, which is moving its headquarters from Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee to the Viera stadium. “It’s exciting. We just can’t wait.”
USSSA plans to spend $22 million upgrading Space Coast Stadium and the surrounding complex, while Brevard County agreed in March to cover the remaining $10 million in costs, specifically for artificial turf and improved lighting, under a revised 20-year lease agreement with the sports league.
DeDonatis said work on Space Coast Stadium and two practice fields should be completed by mid-May. The Pride’s new home field will have new artificial turf and a new scoreboard among other improvements, he said. Four other fields are expected to be ready in July, and another nine fields should be finished this fall, he added.
DeDonatis said the new artificial turf drains quickly, “so there won’t be too many rainouts, hopefully.”
Under the original lease agreement approved in 2015, USSSA guaranteed 175 days of events annually at the stadium that would generate 75,000 nights of hotel room rentals in its first year of operation, and 100,000 by its third year. The county would have use of the stadium 75 days a year.
“That’s no problem at all,” DeDonatis said of the USSSA hitting its 175-event mark. “In our organization, for all of 2016 we had 37,000 events. We can bring a lot of events in and out of here.”
One of those events will be a 24-team men’s professional slow-pitch softball tournament during Labor Day weekend. Players will include former members of college and pro teams, DeDonatis said.
“They’re pretty athletic,” he noted. “They hit the ball out of the stadium.”
At a March groundbreaking for a new Fairfield Inn & Suites across from The Avenue Viera, County Commissioner Curt Smith said the USSSA will generate far more hotel room stays than the Nationals, who played in Viera from 2005 to 2016 before moving to West Palm Beach to share a new spring training facility with the Houston Astros, and the Florida State League’s Brevard County Manatees, who played at the stadium from 1994 to 2016 before relocating to Kissimmee to become the Florida Fire Frogs.
“I was one of the people who was sorry to see the Nationals go, but the Nationals and the (Miami) Marlins (who conducted spring training in Viera as the Florida Marlins from 1994 to 2002) probably never put more than 5,000 heads in beds a year,” Smith said. “So we’re talking about 100,000 in year three. That’s a lot of out-of-town folks coming to visit us, and those folks are going to spend money.”
The USSSA’s move also brings pro softball to Viera, as the USSSA Pride of the five-team NPF will play from June through early August. Founded in 2009, the Pride won the league championship in 2010, 2013 and 2014.
The four other NPF teams are the Racers, the Chicago Bandits, the Conroe, Texas-based Scrap Yard Dawgs, and the Texas Charge from San Marcos, Texas.
The Pride’s relocation from Kissimmee to Viera also will be a homecoming for player Kelly Kretschman, an Indian Harbour Beach native and the league’s oldest player at 37.
“She’s been with our team since Day One,” DeDonatis said of the 12-year NPF pro, who won a gold medal with Team USA at the 2004 Summer Olympics and silver at the 2008 Games. “It’s one of the reasons we took the franchise over. She’s been unbelievable. Nobody remembers an athlete playing in the league that long, and the last two years she was actually MVP of the league.”
Kretschman’s parents still live in Brevard, DeDonatis noted.
“They’ve watched her play in Japan and all around the world and here she’s going to finish her career right in her own backyard,” he said. “So that’s kinda cool.”
For more information, go to usssa.com