A Ballfield With Soul

Seoul International Park in Los Angeles

By Emily Tipping

n the neighborhood of Koreatown around Seoul International Park in Los Angeles, kids no longer spend their days dreaming about playing baseball all year long. Now they can live their dreams and play baseball—and other sports—at any time of the year. It's all thanks to the Dodgers Dream Foundation, which partnered with other organizations like the Amateur Athletic Foundation and the city of Los Angeles to completely renovate the multi-use fields at the park.

The $1.2 million renovation of Seoul International Park—the seventh Dodgers Dream Field—included the installation of synthetic turf, which means all kinds of sports can be played all year long, though the field will get the most use from the youth baseball program. These kinds of fields are most commonly associated with collegiate and professional-level sports fields—not park district fields.

Synthetic fields are also more commonly used for sports like football and soccer than baseball, said Jim Dobmeier, president of A-Turf, which provided the fields.

"We always like doing baseball projects because the overwhelming majority of synthetic fields tend to be football and soccer fields," he said. "It's still a little unique. And certainly it's unique to be part of such a well-recognized organization with the Dodgers' involvement in the project."

The Dodgers contributed about a quarter of the funds needed to complete the project, which is just one of the latest in a series of park renovations taking place around downtown Los Angeles. The Dodgers Dream Foundation was founded nearly 10 years ago with the purpose of providing educational, athletic and recreational opportunities for kids in the Greater Los Angeles area, with a special emphasis on serving the needs of traditionally underserved youth.

The Dodgers' Dream Fields program represents a partnership between the Dodgers and city officials, including the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks. In addition to the Dream Field at Seoul International Park, six other projects have been completed at Algin Sutton Recreation Center, Montecito Recreation Center, Cheviot Hills Park, Bishop Canyon Recreation Center, Wrigley Field and Evergreen Recreation Center, with an eighth field in progress at Playa Vista Little League Field.

Working with two large organizations like the Dodgers and the parks department presented some unique challenges, according to Mike Walker, director of landscape architecture for SportsOne Development Inc., which provided design services for the renovated park. But working through those challenges paid off in the end, resulting in a park that will be able to take a lot more wear and tear.

The field used to spend much of the year as a mix of clay and dirt. It had to be closed for more than two months every year for resodding. High levels of foot traffic can do a lot of damage to natural turf, and Seoul International Park was no exception.

"What warranted the project was there's a big festival every fall, and the fields got so used and kind of destroyed by that festival, so they wanted to get a surface that was a bit more durable and could sustain hundreds of thousands of people walking on it," Walker said. "Also, the field is used heavily by the people in the surrounding neighborhood for things like pick-up games and so on. There was basically no grass at the point when we started the design—it was just a dirt field."

More than a ballpark

The renovation of the park was not limited to the installation of synthetic turf. Also included was a new irrigation system, fencing for the fields, a new scoreboard, lighting, dugouts and bleachers. In addition to the sports fields, Seoul International Park houses a children's play area, picnic areas, a jogging path and a community center with an indoor gym and auditorium. With so many opportunities for recreation in one location, the park is a popular destination for residents of Koreatown.

Seoul International Park is one of Los Angeles' CLASS Parks, which incorporate a model based on the understanding that many problems for today's youth—from isolation and educational failures to substance abuse and gang involvement—are just symptoms of a youth development infrastructure that is falling apart at the seams. The CLASS Parks program operates nearly 50 youth development sites around the city, providing activities after school and on the weekends. It's not just limited to baseball, either. CLASS Parks also provide opportunities for youth aged 11 to 15 to get involved in education, vocational training and adventure-based programming, in addition to standard recreational activities.

Funds have also been donated by the Dodgers Dream Foundation and the Amateur Athletic Foundation to create new programming for kids and teens in the community surrounding Seoul International Park. This includes a softball league for the girls, in addition to youth baseball.

Almost like the real thing

The synthetic turf used in the park was selected through a competitive bidding process from among several synthetic turf systems specified by the architect. This particular A-Turf system uses a rubber-and-sand infill and is constructed of polyethylene fibers, which makes it user-friendly and as close to natural turf as possible. In some synthetic fields, infill has a tendency to shift and "spray"—not a welcome occurrence for players. The less the infill moves, the more consistent the surface is for play.

According to Dobmeier, the benefit of synthetic turf for this project—or for any project—is consistency and the number of events that can take place on the field.

"You get the materials put in, and once it's installed, it can literally be used hundreds of times per year with little impact to the surface," Dobmeier said. "You can use every square foot of the installation day in and day out in any weather conditions—from beautiful sunshine to heavy rain. It plays very consistently."

Another benefit of the synthetic field is the lowered maintenance requirements. To be sure, synthetic fields still require some maintenance, but not the same kind of constant care that natural turf fields need, and that makes a big difference for Seoul International Park's ballfields.

"Basically, it was used so much that they couldn't keep up with the maintenance," Walker said. "A little maintenance is still required—maybe washing it down with a power sprayer with water or a water-soap combination. If it gets ripped, they need someone to come out and sew it back together. There really isn't much maintenance after it's installed."

Dobmeier added that the synthetic turf has a life expectancy of at least 10 to 12 years, but since the product has only been around for eight or nine years, it could end up lasting even longer than expected.

"I think the community is going to benefit from the amount of use it's going to get," Walker said, "and it's going to stay in top-notch condition because of the synthetic turf."


Seoul International Park:


SportsOne Development Inc.:

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