FRANKLIN (WITI) -- Little boys have been trying to imitate their baseball heroes forever, and thanks to a new facility in Franklin, it's easier to do than ever before.
To call The Rock in Franklin impressive is an understatement. The first shovel for the privately funded facility was turned last fall, and by May, baseball games were being played on The Rock's diamonds.
Before talking about those diamonds, it's necessary to talk about the game plan for them. An admitted baseball junkie, General Manager Tom Johns isn't afraid of hard work.
"We have a bike park too, and it's really interesting. There's a guy who's a professional mountain biker, and he said 'you know, it's funny -- the best way to get out of mountain biking is to start getting in the business of mountain biking.' It's kind of ominous, so as much as we thought we'd be down here playing catch in the middle of the day -- it hasn't happened," Johns said.
Johns gets to play ball in his off hours, though, in the RLB -- Rock League Baseball. There are 50 adult teams participating this summer, and Johns is on a roster. There are youth leagues starting at eight years of age, and all of those players are on fields that might look familiar, since each is patterned after a Big League diamond.
"We had overhead views of all 32 Major League teams' stadiums, and literally sat there going 'nope,' 'yep,' 'nope,' 'nope,' 'yep,'" Johns said.
That filtering process led to the construction of a half-dozen replica fields, based on the Big League facilities for the Brewers and Cardinals at the youth distances and the Pirates, Phillies, Giants and Red Sox for the adults.
"These fields are eight percent less than the actual footprints of the actual Major League stadium, but it's all the same outlines of the fencing, the same cuts on the infield, right down to the product that we use on our natural fields," Operations Manager Joe Czajka said.
Teams like Pius High School get to feel like a team in the National League. The Popes played their home games at The Rock this past season.
If you're playing out here at Pirates Park or one of the other Majors based fields at The Rock, one thing you won't be doing, if you are 18 years or older, is using an aluminum bat. At The Rock, it's all wood.
"Personally, I think it adds an authenticity to what we're doing here. It's a nostalgia thing, and quite honestly, I think that most players are pretty excited about it," Czajka said.
The Rock's official grand opening is this weekend, and six more fields are in the works for next year -- including a couple for softball.