Virtual Reality In California Replicas of Yankee Stadium, Fenway and Wrigley dazzle weekend warriors

April 18, 1999

The first time Carl Maybin walked into Big League Dreams Sports
Park, the 68-year-old retiree thought he had died and gone to
heaven. What he saw was a three-quarter-scale replica of Wrigley
Field, with ivy beginning to creep across the brick outfield
wall. He also saw a similarly shrunken twin of Yankee Stadium,
with the famous facade crowning the bleachers, and a similarly
reduced version of Fenway Park, with its signature Green Monster
in leftfield.

Soon Maybin found himself experiencing nirvana: He was actually
playing in the faux Fenway. "I couldn't believe it," he recalls.
"I'm from Boston originally, and to play in Fenway...it's just
awesome."

Big League Dreams is the brainchild of Ron Odekirk and his sons,
Rick and Jeff. They designed and built this fantasy playground
for softball and youth-baseball players to indulge their major
league fantasies on natural grass. Located in Cathedral City,
Calif., 120 miles east of Los Angeles, the complex has been
packed since it opened in January 1998. Indeed, the only thing
better than gazing at replicas of the three beloved stadiums is
playing ball in them.

"I've played on fields all across the country, and I've never
seen a park as good as these," says Maybin, a resident of nearby
Desert Hot Springs and the proud owner of two senior softball
world series rings.

The three Odekirks brought more than 50 years of collective
baseball experience to the project. Ron, 68, played in the New
York Yankees organization in the early 1950s and reached the
Class A level with Victoria in the old Western International
League. Rick, 41, was an undersized lefthanded pitcher and bit
player on USC's 1978 national championship team; he was drafted
by the Milwaukee Brewers and spent 13 years bouncing around the
minor leagues with the Milwaukee, Kansas City, Oakland,
Cincinnati, Texas, Baltimore and Cleveland organizations. Jeff,
34, was a shortstop prospect, but knee injuries ended his career
while he was still at USC.

The family says the idea for the sports park came from a desire
to provide weekend warriors with a major league environment to
play in. "Whether we played professionally or didn't make our
high school teams, all of us have the same dream to play in the
big leagues," says Rick. "We give softball players and Little
Leaguers a place to play out their dreams."

After his sons came up with the idea for the fantasy park, Ron,
a real estate developer, pored over photographs of the actual
stadiums to capture their unique features. The fields were built
to softball league specs. The $6 million complex was funded by
the Odekirks, private investors and the municipality of
Cathedral City.

The replicas have the originals' quirky dimensions. For example,
Fenway Park's playing field measures 310 feet to left, 390 in
center and 302 in right; the bullpens are in right center, and
the Green Monster, in left, is 37 feet high. The Cathedral City
Fenway measures 280 feet to the leftfield pole, juts out to 310
in left center, evens out at 295 feet where the bullpens are
located and finishes at 270 feet down the rightfield line. The
mini-Green Monster stands 25 feet tall. "We want the average guy
to be able to hit one out," says Rick Odekirk. "You don't have
to be a 6'3", 250-pound giant--like your average fast-pitch
softball star--to clear the wall."

There's even a crowd in the bleachers. Actually, the lifelike
fans are vinyl prints taken from panoramic photographs of
spectators at the real ballparks. Thus, it appears that
thousands of sun-drenched fans are watching from Cathedral
City's Wrigley Field bleachers and from apartments on Waveland
and Sheffield avenues. (Real spectator seats are located behind
each backstop; they were in Anaheim Stadium until its
renovation, completed in 1998.)

The Big League Dreams park is a multisport facility that also
has batting cages, beach-volleyball courts, a roller-hockey
rink, basketball courts, soccer fields and a restaurant. A
10-game season costs softball teams $300 per club to play at one
of the fields, and admission for a full-day ticket to the
recreational areas is only $1. Companies and groups can rent out
all or a portion of the park for private functions at costs
ranging from several hundred to several thousand dollars a day.

The Odekirks have been approached by some 40 cities across the
U.S. to build similar structures, and so far they plan to do so
in Riverside and Chino Hills, Calif., both near Los Angeles.
Rick says they'll replicate different historic parks--probably
Brooklyn's Ebbets Field, New York's Polo Grounds and
Cincinnati's Crosley Field.

"We did these three first because they're the most popular
stadiums in the country," he says. "But we'd like to do others
because people love playing in the old stadiums."

David Davis, who lives in L.A., is a freelancer and frequent
contributor to SI.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOHN W. MCDONOUGH East meets West Yankees fans can play in the House that Ruth Built, complete with faux fans and the Santa Rosa Mountains.
TWO COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOHN W. MCDONOUGHThe Odekirks planted ivy at Wrigley (left) and got the Green Monster's color right.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)