PUNXSUTAWNEY — Current Cincinnati Reds' and former Punxsutawney Area High School catcher Devin Mesoraco, known for his generosity to the Make-A-Wish campaign in Punxsutawney over the years, is displaying his Christmas spirit in another manner related to his lifelong-dream-turned-career this year by contributing to the renovation of the Rich Kuntz Memorial Field complex this week.
Mesoraco spent a lot of time at the ball field growing up, and he realizes his time there led to his dream of playing in the majors coming true. Now, he wants to give something back to help make the complex one at which kids will want to play for years to come.
"I have had many great memories playing on this field throughout my years in Legion and high school baseball, and I would like to contribute towards other future baseball players' dreams and goals by creating a great place for them to play baseball," Mesoraco said.
Some of Mesoraco's biggest fans reside in Punxsutawney, and he said it's an honor to give back to the community.
"I'm very fortunate to be where I am and to have some of the benefits of the job I have," he said. "It's nice to support the community of Punxsutawney in any way I can, especially with something that was such a big part of my life being down at the ball field and everything. It's nice to give back to the kids who will be using this field in the future, and for me, it's something I'm lucky enough to do."
Devin's father, Doug Mesoraco, has been spearheading the VFW baseball program for some time and said lots of people in the organization have been eyeing some improvements that go above and beyond the standard cement block buildings.
Doug Mesoraco said the reason for the more recent renovations has been mostly out of necessity due to outdated buildings affected by multiple floods, updated codes and older equipment for food preparation.
"We have some visionaries in the organization, whether it be me, Bill Grayson, Joe Dipietro or the other guys who are contractors, but it came to be that our other building was outdated," Doug Mesoraco said. "That's why we had to renovate. It was 40 years old, and we ran out of space to expand. We decided to do something a little different from the normal square building, and I think we're starting to see the fruits of our vision."
Renovations started in Dec. 2009 with the installation of new bleachers at the field, and continued with the construction of new dugouts, which were unveiled at the 13- and 14-year-old VFW Teener League All-Star State Tournament in July — a tournament Punxsy won as the host.
Now, what started as a vision of the VFW Teener League Baseball Association and a sketch on a paper plate then grew into an architects rendition is taking shape as the new concession stand and clubhouse.
As opposed to the standard block building, Mesoraco said the planners decided to try something a bit different.
The new structure is a 30-by-30 foot two-story multi-purpose building with a concession stand occupying the first floor along with handicap-accessible bathrooms that are centralized to all spectators.
Another way that Mesoraco and the planning committee are trying to give back to the community with the work is by using local vendors for a majority of the work.
"A lot of the labor that's going into the project is volunteer within the organization itself, but we're staying with mostly-local vendors and contractors, too," Mesoraco said.
Burke & Sons is currently installing the windows and doors, Thermal Gard manufactured the windows, and Brickworks, which is just outside of Punxsy in March- and, is laying the blocks. The VFW is purchasing most of the materials from Cloe Lumber. Jefferson Machine, Smith Hauling, J.A. White Co. and John Goss have also helped in the process.
"We're trying to stay local, and we have some of the best contractors around, because the architect we happened to use is out of Philadelphia. They're very impressed with the things we're able to do," Mesoraco said.
Giving their time has been something that everyone involved with the project has been able to do, Mesoraco said.
"Everybody has a role," he said. "This isn't a one-man project, so we can't give credit to any one person, but it takes a whole organization. Through our board, we have about 15 people at each meeting, and we have a lot of input. Everyone involved takes some time out of their day, whether it's to run and get some product or to come to the field and work for us."
It's not just the parents that are involved in the work, either.
"We've had the kids involved, digging ditches and what not, to show them what it takes to get a project like this done, and maybe they'll appreciate it a little more that way and take some pride in it. It's always nice to go by something and say, 'Hey, I helped build that,'" Mesoraco said.
Currently, work is being completed to close things up for the winter with windows and doors being installed and block being laid to enclose a second-story deck that will be known as "Devin's Deck" thanks to his generous contribution. A temporary roof is also being placed on the building to see to it that it is sealed up for the winter.
"The weather has cooperated with us," Mesoraco said. "Here it is just before Christmas, and we haven't had a lot of snow. We've had some warm weather, too, so we've been benefitting from the weather by being able to work this deep into the winter."
The vision for Rich Kuntz Memorial Field goes far beyond the new structure, too.
"The vision extends to cement work and patio blocks for a walkway, a retaining wall and a new backstop," Mesoraco said. "Within two years, we'll probably be able to do that, but we want this to be functional for the first day of high school baseball, which is usually around April 1.
"Hopefully, we can get a lot of work done on the inside over the winter and get everything properly inspected to be ready by then."
Funding for the $250,000 project has come from many sources including a state grant, various league fundraisers, seed money from a lease for field use, donated business services and a few financial gifts, some of which were anonymous.
Similar to any project of this manner, though, costs of products and labor are always increasing. In order to fulfill the goals of the VFW Baseball Association and dreams of the kids, Mesoraco said fundraising and contributions will be continued over the next few years to bring the project to full fruition.
Mesoraco said the VFW Teener League Baseball Association is a 501(c)3, or charitable, organization, so all contributions are tax deductible, and receipts will be provided for contributors' tax records.
Mesoraco said he is thankful for the generosity of contributors so far and is glad others are catching the vision he and the committee share of giving to the future of baseball in the Punxsy area.
"This whole project is about the kids themselves, really," he said. "This coming year will be my 20th with Legion baseball, and every year for probably the last 10, we've been trying to slowly but surely get this to the point where it's a nice complex, from a new fence, a new scoreboard, a new batting cage, to new bullpens. Every year there are 10 to 15 kids that are different, and everyone who will play here will benefit from it."
A renovated, state-of-the-art complex also has the potential to bring more commerce to the local businesses of Punxsutawney.
"Obviously, we lease this complex out to other programs, and we can host tournaments," Mesoraco said. "I think it'll be a benefit to the entire community to have a facility that can be accessed like this."
Devin also shared his father's sentiment that having this complex will be a great opportunity for the kids to play on a top-notch field.
"It's every kid's dream to play in the Majors, and not everyone will have that opportunity," Devin said. "But this will be one of the nicest fields around, so it'll hopefully be something pretty close to playing on a Major League field. It'll be exciting for the kids."
If anyone would like to contribute to the project, they can contact Doug Mesoraco at (814) 541-3188 or Joe DiPietro at (814) 952-4732.