Softball starts season with refreshed look

The new digital scoreboards were tested during opening day softball action at the Saddlebrook Softball Complex. The new scoreboards will be used starting Wednesday.

As yet another recreational softball season began Tuesday, players and spectators alike were welcomed by several upgrades to softball facilities in The Villages. A handful of improvements were made at Saddlebrook Softball Complex, Knudson Softball Field and Soaring Eagle Softball Complex, after individual work projects began earlier this spring and summer. Upgrades include new scoreboards at both Saddlebrook and Knudson, new flooring and countertops in the scoring booth at Saddlebrook, playing surface improvements at Soaring Eagle, as well as the installation of chilled water fountains at all three facilities. Buffalo Glen Softball Complex also received new scoring boxes for its scoreboards and playing surface improvements on its fields. “In everything we do, we look at how we can enhance the overall user experience,” said Blair Bean, director of District Property Management in The Villages. “One of our primary goals is not only to upkeep the assets to the level of service and standard of the community, but also when there’s opportunities to provide newer equipment or more up-to-date technology — we want to do that.”

The projects were completed in partnership between District Property Management and The Villages Recreation and Parks Department, with representatives from each citing a shared mission to further improve the experience for those utilizing the facilities.

“As an accredited recreation and parks agency, we are constantly striving and evaluating our processes and facility improvement plans,” said Danny Jacobs, recreation area manager and sports coordinator for recreation and parks. “The Villages Recreation and Parks Department is committed to providing excellent recreational opportunities and facilities that promote a healthy lifestyle for our residents.”

The new scoreboards on fields at Saddlebrook and Knudson feature vibrant LED lighting — offering a much brighter display — as well as newly installed protective netting to thwart possible hits from batted balls.

“We utilized the same brand and model that were previously installed at Knudson and Saddlebrook, which makes for an easy transition for our players and scorekeepers,” Jacobs said of the new scoreboards. “From a spectator standpoint, we believe it enhances the fan experience since the boards are clean and bright.”

The summertime project to remodel flooring and refinish countertop space within Saddlebrook’s scoring booth came at an opportune time, as the booths were unavailable for use out of an abundance of caution amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We saw it as a great opportunity to take this extra time to accomplish our projects and complete some of our asset management tasks,” Bean said.

Improvements to playing surfaces at Soaring Eagle and Buffalo Glen provide both an on-field boost — smoother clay for better quality of play — and the important technical benefit of better drainage and precipitation intake.

“It’s always exciting when you start a new season, but it’s a plus when we’ve got things being done to improve the facilities,” said Don Brozick, of the Village of Pine Hills, who serves as league commissioner of Division 2. “Both District Property Management and Recreation and Parks have been outstanding. They listen and understand what the residents want or need, and I’ve really been impressed by their quality of work.”

The new additions also impressed Dennis McMahon, of the Village of Pennecamp, who managed the Division 5 Wolverines in the season opener Tuesday at Saddlebrook.

“We take a lot of pride in what we have here in The Villages,” McMahon said. “We think we have the best facilities anywhere in the world when it comes to senior softball. So when you look around and see them upgrading even more, you feel fortunate that you get to play in a place this first class.”

Bean said that state-of-the-art standard is what drives continued improvements to the community’s facilities, helping further maintain their illustrious position as a senior softball haven.

“We always hear a lot of feedback from those who use the fields — residents and out-of-town players — that they’re the nicest fields in the country,” Bean said. “So we want to do all we can to maintain that level of service and be consistent in providing that overall experience.

“We want a player to feel that no matter which fields they play on here in The Villages, they’re getting that same level of standard and treatment all across the board.”

Staff writer Cody Hills can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5286, or cody.hills@thevillagesmedia.com.