Ajax ballpark’s remediation brings back Pan Am thoughts

By: Danny Gallagher

Canadian Baseball Network

As he rhymed off the dimensions of the spiffy President’s Choice Pan Am Baseball Park in Ajax, Ont., Dave Meredith sounded very much like the articulate baseball fan he is.

“It is 330 down the lines, 370 in the alleys and 400 to straightaway centre,’’ Meredith was saying in an interview as a reporter wondered how far it would take for someone to hit a home run.

As the remediation of the ballpark used for last summer’s Pan Am Games just completed a few weeks ago in December, it was a time for reflection by Meredith, the director of operations and environmental services for the town of Ajax. He talked about how proud he was of the efforts that were put into getting the diamond and its trimmings into shape for an international tournament that featured some of the best amateurs and borderline major-leaguers from different parts of the world.

It all started a few years ago when Ajax was awarded the rights to play host to the Pan Am baseball championship events in both the men’s and women’s divisions at the corner of Audley and Taunton roads at the Audley Recreation Centre.

“I was born and raised in Ajax,’’ Meredith said. “As a baseball fan, I had a personal interest because baseball is the sport I’m most passionate about.

The tournament was a great success. All of our staff were responsible for looking after the pitcher mounds, chalking the lines down the first base side, the third base side and around home plate. Our staff relished the opportunity to be part of this great event.

“We upgraded one baseball diamond and built one to Major League Baseball standards,’’ Meredith said. “A lot of consulting went into the design of the facility. So many people were involved in the design process, the technical quality control. Pan Am had their representatives. There were people who were involved in the London Olympics and the Vancouver Olympics. Bateman Malloy of Kitchener was the general contractor.’’

Among the brilliant minds involved in the design end were Catherine Bridgeman, manager of infrastructure and capital projects for the town of Ajax, landscape architect Glenn O’Connor of Forrec in Toronto, and internationally renowned sports-venue manager and MLB consultant Murray Cook. No, not that Murray Cook, the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee, who was general manager of the Montreal Expos, Cincinnati Reds and New York Yankees.

“Murray Cook is a guy, who goes to Australia to look at cricket pitches, he looks at premier soccer fields, he studies golf courses,’’ Meredith said. “He was actually someone retained by Pan Am from the U.S. He’s the go-to guy around the world.’’

Back in 2002 and 2003 when the vagabond Montreal Expos were dispatched by Major League Baseball to play some home games in Puerto Rico, Cook served the dual positions of head groundskeeper and stadium operations adviser at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan.

The main Pan Am go-to person was Sarah Martin, senior project manager, venue development, who worked with the infrastructure team to design and build the venues. So many competent people involved.

As part of the remediation which wasn’t undertaken until the end of the local baseball season, temporary concession stands, fencing and stands were removed along with makeshift dressing rooms and umpires’ rooms, which encompassed the infrastructure that was dictated by the Pan Am Games organization.

It was infrastructure that made the event somewhat fan un-friendly, a bit maddening with over-the-top security and tall fences that made it almost impossible for fans to interact with players. Pan Am paid $149,000 to pay for the remediation.

And the highlight of the baseball tournament for Meredith? That wonderful moment involving Pete Orr.

“The ending of the game involving Canada and the U.S,’’ Meredith said. “In all my years in baseball and playing the game, I’ve never seen an ending like that.’’

Orr went from first to home on a series of blunders by U.S. players to score the winning run as Canada beat the U.S. 7-6 in a wacky, 10-inning game.

“The one, biggest misfortune is that there was no live television broadcast of the gold-medal game. Many people widely criticized the television coverage,’’ Meredith said. “All in all, the baseball was fantastic. We saw some very talented teams compete and we had great crowds. The Pan Am Games in general were wonderful. Before it all started, there were a lot of skeptics. But everything turned out very positive and so good.’’