Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

December 9, 2012

Softball complex could be boon for area economy

Mark Maynard
The Independent

COALTON — Dave Miller looks over his budding new softball complex like a proud father.

No wonder.

Even during difficult economic times for just about everybody, the owner of Championship Fastpitch has stuck to his goals — and his dreams — in the construction of a five-field complex on the hill behind the Boyd County Fairgrounds.

When the complex is completed — and it will be ready for action next May — it could reap dividends not only for Miller but for nearby restaurants, hotels and the Kyova Mall. He anticipates have softball tournaments where 20 teams (or more) come in for the weekend. They will be staying nearby, eating nearby, going to movies, shopping and visiting.

The economic impact will be far-reaching, he predicts.

Miller is not just guessing either. He has traveled for years with girls’ softball teams when his daughter, Katelyn, was playing. “I saw those complexes and all those people and thought we needed that in Ashland.

“It’s going to be a boost to the economy.”

While it’s a private enterprise for Miller, it has an obvious impact on local economy, too. However, it’s almost like the complex is the best-kept secret in the area, he said. Neither local nor state politicians have offered to give any assistance on the project, he said.

He did learn about the property after attending a meeting at Boyd County Fiscal Court about three years ago when the court was considering a water park. It would have been near where the softball complex is being built. At that time, though, he didn’t even own the property.

Miller purchased 35 acres from Addington Inc. that goes past the Boyd County Fairgrounds for more than $300,000. It’s a picturesque open area that is already taking shape. Four of the five fields have been cut out, three of them already have grass and the dugouts are built. Eventually, the complex will have about a $5 million price tag on it, but, so far, Miller has stayed ahead of the bills.

“I’m not worried about making X amount of money to pay off loans,” he said. “Everything here has been paid for. I’m invested in it, sure. But I don’t ‘owe the man.’ I’m not beholden to anybody.’’

One local business, Wagner Rental, has stepped up to help, Miller said. “They told me you come and get any equipment you want, for free.”

Much of the work on the fields has been done since September, he said. It’s almost ready for play now but should certainly be good to start having tournaments next summer. Miller has done feasibility studies on the complex and looked at Binghampton, N.Y., as a model.

“They had lost their steel industry and didn’t know what to do,” he said. “They built athletic complexes and doubled their tax revenue in two years.”

Miller started crunching numbers. “If I had 40 teams — most of them have 12 girls — in for a tournament, that’s 500 players. Now, how many parents and grandparents come with them? That’s easily another 1,000 and probably more. So we have 1,500 to 2,000 in for a weekend. They’re staying two nights, using gas, eating at our restaurants, shopping at our malls, going to movies. This is simple economics.”

Miller said he’s surprised there hasn’t been any county or state support for the project considering what he could potentially.

“We’re going to have tournaments every weekend for six months,” he said. “They all may not have 40 teams but even with 20 teams you’re bringing a lot of people into our area. It makes sense to me.”

Miller, who is the head coach of the four-time defending 16th Region champion Ashland Kittens softball team, developed Championship Fastpitch five years ago because there was no place like it in the area. He was driving his daughter to Lexington and even Nashville for pitching lessons when it dawned on him that the same product could be offered here.

Miller said it’s also no coincidence that the high school Kittens’ transformation has come during the five years his business has been open.

Miller hires pitching and hitting instructors and sells equipment out of his building. Of course, it’s not just for Ashland players. He takes all-comers.

Miller brought in Jenny Finch, perhaps the world’s best-known women’s softball player, for a clinic a few years ago. He drove to Louisville to pick her up and bring her to Ashland. “I was at the Galt House and when she came into the lobby you could have knocked me over with a feather,” he said.

Miller has done the work at the fields mostly with his own employees although Mike Travis of Irvine has been instrumental in the process. He is an electrical co-op engineer who has a burden and passion for softball, much like Miller.

Miller, who was an outstanding baseball player at Boyd County, developed a love of softball while playing in local leagues. He also wants to revive a slow-pitch adult league at the complex. Ashland used to have highly popular leagues in Central Park.

But when that field on Central Avenue was taken down for soccer fields, the slow-pitch softball died with it despite the fields that were developed at the former Southside pool site.

“I lived in Lexington in the ‘80s and was an avid softball player,” he said. “I was going to these places I didn’t even know existed. Everyone I went to over the last 10 years I’ve taken a mental snapshot in my mind.”

He has taken the good from several fields for his own complex. For instance, there’s a huge concession stand that will be constructed in the middle of the complex that overlooks all the fields. Also, each of the fields is at different elevations so games can be watched from almost anywhere.

The fifth field, that is yet to be built, will be for championship games only. It will have a grandstand and players will walk across a bridge — “The Walk of Champions” — over a pond.

“If you can imagine, this is kinda like Disney World,” Miller said, pointing toward where the championship field will be. “This is like Main Street and there’s the (Cinderella) castle.”

Miller has big dreams. He wants to eventually host the Kentucky High School Athletic Association State Softball Tournament, which has been played in Owensboro for years, and will be putting in a bid for the Little League World Series.

“We’re going to make that championship field ready for ESPN,” he said. “We’re building that field for television.”

The fields will have 300-foot fences so it will also work for men’s slow-pitch leagues, he said. Each one is lined with a block backstop and the dugouts are enclosed — no holes to peep through — to keep parental interference at a minimum during games.

Miller, who also owns a medical business, M&G Neurophysiology, is 2½ years into a five-year plan with softball. He opened Championship Fastpitch five years ago and his dream has proceeded from there.

“We bought the land and I was excited because we were ahead of schedule,” he said. “I talked Harry Friley, the best bulldozer man in the area, into taking on the project. He did a lot of grading and moving dirt.”

There is still plenty to do and plenty of cost. The big ticket item will be for lighting. He has an estimate of $750,000 to light all five fields. Eventually, he said, “I want this to be the best softball complex in the United States.”

Miller’s dreams for the complex include a nearby hotel and a restaurant, with Cracker Barrel being his ultimate conquest.

“He loves Cracker Barrel,” said Greg Jackson, a friend and assistant coach on the Kittens. “The girls (Ashland players) always get so mad because anytime we’re traveling we eat at Cracker Barrel. They’ll say ‘What? Cracker Barrel again?’”

Jackson, who went to a lot of out-of-town tournaments with his daughter and Miller’s daughter, said the complex seems to make economic sense from what he’s personally witnessed.

“We’d be sitting in Columbus, Cincinnati, Lexington and even Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and see all these teams, all these people, and say ‘Why don’t we have this in Ashland?’” Jackson said.

“These people will go anywhere for tournaments,” Miller said. “I know, because I did. Why not Ashland?”

MARK MAYNARD can be reached at mmaynard@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2648.