The city and its partners have built it, and families and kids have come.
Kent officially welcomed Wiffco Field to its ballparks lineup Tuesday with a grand-opening celebration of a successful, grant-assisted, collaborative project that included the renovation of a spacious, companion playground next to the diamond.
A play on Safeco Field’s name, the Seattle Mariners’ home for 20 years before it became T-Mobile Park this year, Wiffco Field is a miniature replica of the House that Griffey Built.
The new ballpark, which can be found well behind and beyond the outfield fences of Kent Memorial Park (KMP), 850 Central Ave. N, is the first Wiffle Ball Inc.,-sanctioned field in the state. The Connecticut company granted Kent permission to use its name and trademark imagery.
Mayor Dana Ralph described the ballpark as a “cool, hidden gem” that fits the city’s Park and Open Space Plan and adds amenities to KMP.
“We’re really excited about this space,” Ralph told the gathering of project contributors and supporters. “It’s going to make this a warm and welcoming space that families can come and hang out, that kids can play, that adults can play and everybody can enjoy.”
The city received a $75,000 grant from the King County Youth Sports Facilities program and a $25,000 grant from the Kent Lions Club to help pay for the ball field. In January 2018, the Kent City Council approved a bid of $368,945 to install the field and new playground equipment at the park.
All told, the new ballpark and playground project cost $412,989, money well spent, according to project leaders.
“It’s a good way to get kids active,” said Brian Levenhagen, city parks senior planner, who came up with the idea for the field after seeing children playing Wiffle ball at a field during his travels to Pittsburgh two years ago. “With all the competing things for kids’ time these days, whether it’s screen time or scheduled activities, it’s a good to have something like this that is really special and unique. It’s the first of its kind in Kent for kids … to come down and play, something they can take pride in … their own park.”
Added Julie Parascondola, director of Kent’s Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department: “It brings communities together of all generations, ages, demographics. They can just come here and play a cool game of Wiffle ball.”
Wiffle Ball and the Mariners worked with the city on the park’s design.
The new ballpark features a synthetic turf surface, stadium seats and signs that honor Mariner greats Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez and Dave Niehaus. The outfield wall includes rows of “K” placards from the King’s Court, and a scoreboard that memorializes Felix Hernandez’s perfect game from the 2012 season.
Ralph hopes the city can entice T-Mobile to sponsor the park and update its name.
The renovated playground includes a new Explorer Dome, which is a net climbing structure; a new slide; a group swing; and a separate play area for kids ages 2 to 5.
The completion of Wiffco Field and playground renovation, Ralph said, was made possible with the help of Harkness Construction; Northwest Playground Equipment; PlayCeration; Highwire and city parks support services.
Sitting behind home plate, City Councilmember Brenda Fincher soaked in the view.
“It’s an original,” she said of the ballpark. “I love everything about it. … To me, one of the best places you can spend your day is at a baseball field. …. It’s a great place for both young and old, and this is a great addition.”