In his unforgettable role as Ray Kinsella in the 1989 instant classic “Field of Dreams,” actor Kevin Costner stakes his entire livelihood by converting his cornfield to a baseball field based on a voice that declares, “If you build it, he will come.”
While the parallels to the Costner movie with the 2016 construction of the Melissa Sports Facility on Melissa Road are not nearly the same, the sense of anticipation surrounding the building of fields in hopes of attracting players and fans does follow the same basic trajectory.
Seen as an economic development engine for the City, the facility, recently renamed the Z-Plex Texas Sports Village, sits on 100 acres of City-owned land at 4220 East Melissa Road, in the vicinity of Melissa High School. The four baseball, one softball, four covered and eight open tennis courts, and several soccer fields have become the Melissa High School teams’ home fields. Notwithstanding, the complex is rapidly gaining fame as a first class sports facility that serves a much wider national, and even international, clientele.
Financed through a combination of impact fees, sales and use taxes, and community donations, the complex has, in the two-and-a-half years since its opening, attracted an estimated 600,000 visitors to Melissa, mostly for two and three day weekend tournaments.
The quality of the baseball and softball fields, all of which offer playing surfaces of artificial turf, is so noteworthy that the fields have attracted high-level college play as well as tournaments that feature elite teams from around the country, including of course, their fans, supporters, families, friends, scouts, and enthusiasts. The baseball fields at Zadow Park, among the City of Melissa’s more established park facilities, have been upgraded to artificial turf and now serve as overflow fields during large tournaments.
In 2018, the first year of play at the Z-Plex, over a thousand games were played on the fields, even though the complex’s opening was timed more to the construction schedule, and not to the traditional baseball season schedule.
Nevertheless, the reputational draw of the field’s partner organizations, its national-level board of trustees, and the highly-anticipated expectation that fueled word of mouth, led to an incredible initial-year burst of activity. Several national and regional tournaments for high school aged players, games and tournaments hosted by Melissa High School, sports camps, and even several exhibition and practice sessions by the Jayhawks of the University of Kansas were all hosted by the complex.
Even at this early stage, scouts from Major League Baseball, Divisions 1 and 2 college teams, junior colleges with superior baseball programs, and showcase coaches were filling the stands, eager to find talent among the players converging in Melissa.
In 2019, the pace picked up considerably. Over 2,500 games were held that year. Tournaments with well-established national reputations were making their debuts at the Z-Plex. These included the Don Mattingly World Series, which draws teams and players from dozens of states, the TCS Showcase, as well as the Battle of the Borders tournament all drew significant numbers of teams, players, fans, and visitors to Melissa for nearly constant weekend games.
The tournaments hosted by Melissa High School returned as did a variety of skills camps, bringing in hundreds of players and their families. College games at the complex include teams from the University of Kansas, Texas Southern University, Northern Illinois University and Murray State. Pro and college scouts continued to roam the stands in greater and greater numbers.
Significantly, the Z-Plex was gaining a following with baseball enthusiasts who had not yet attended a game at the complex, as over one million social media impressions were measured in 2019.
The 2020 season has, of course, been affected by the pandemic, even though the total number of visitors to the City’s baseball mecca is still projected to be extremely high. National tournaments continue to dominate the complex with the return of the Don Mattingly World Series, the Pudge Rodriguez World Series, and the TCS Showcase.
On the college level, a total of 77 individual games have been played this year. Predictably, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected several planned tournaments including those hosted by Melissa High School, the Nolan Ryan World Series, the Metro Scout League, the USA Tourney as well as the Little League qualifying tournament.
There is, of course, no doubt that national, and because of the active participation and promotion of Hall-of-Famer Pudge Rodriguez, international interest in the complex remains extremely high. Promoters are certain that, were it not for the depressive effects of the pandemic, there could very well have been the obligatory celebration of the one millionth fan to cross the Z-Plex threshold this year.
Meanwhile, the other “Field of Dreams” question remains. Has the Z-Plex Texas Sports Village become the economic development engine it was intended to be? The answer is an unqualified yes.
Studies conducted by sports economists at the highly-respected D-BAT organization have shown that for every 75 teams attending two and three day tournaments, the local economy sees a boost of some $100,000. This includes hotel stays, food and gasoline purchases, snacks, beverages, fast food and full service dining options, souvenirs, and other incidental expenses. On average, two weekend tournaments often draw at least that many teams, making the economic impact significant on a continuing basis.
The impact has not gone unnoticed by Burger King, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, and Braum’s, which have each either already built or are in the process of building restaurants near the complex. The City of Melissa is actively recruiting more eating establishments, and of course, lodging facilities, grocery stores, additional visitor and tourist directed shopping and sports-related amenities. City officials will welcome the tax revenue that accrues from developed commercial property, sales and use taxes on purchased items, as well as the lucrative revenue from hotel stays, all of which have a positive impact on the local economy, produce jobs, and attract commercial, industrial and other revenue producing concerns.
Added to the games are additional amenities planned for the complex. A performance course training center, D-BAT training facility, TCS dormitories, and an onsite restaurant are all on the drawing board. Through special arrangements with the City, many of these facilities will be available for use by Melissa residents at a discount.
The vision for the complex is a long one, and as the City develops, the Z-Plex Texas Sports Village will be a key component of that growth.