The players are ready. The coaches are stoked. The finishing touches are being put on the new and improved baseball and softball complex at Blackduck High School. Now all we need is for the weather to cooperate.

Snow and mud have worked together to undermine the start of the Drakes' baseball and softball seasons at home, but volunteer crews have been hard at work making sure that when the players are back on the diamonds that their facilities, as well as those for the fans and press, will be the best we've ever seen.

If you've walked or driven past the Blackduck High School baseball and softball fields at any time in the last nine months, you've undoubtedly noticed that there is a lot of activity going on. When the Drakes' bats finally crack this spring, they'll be doing so in a new sports complex, spearheaded by Blackduck baseball coach Dwight Kalvig. Kalvig spurred the interest of Jim Krabbenhoft, Karl Gustafson and Daryl Lundberg, who assisted in the planning of the project - along with input from BHS softball coach Sheena Reese and others.

In the preliminary stages, architectural drafts were presented to the Blackduck High School Athletic/Activities Director Ryan Grow and approved to go to the District 32 School Board, where the plans were presented at the June meeting. In July, the School Board approved the project with modifications due to school policies and the Americans with Disabilities Act access, and further modifications per city ordinances.

The dream of a more professional facility has been in the minds of spring and summer sports enthusiasts like Kalvig, Reese and many others for years. But with the help of professional skilled workers who have volunteered their time, talents and efforts in the area of design, contracting, carpentry, electrical, plumbing and more, it is becoming a reality.

With the volunteer labor on those key needs, the estimated price tag on the project was $130,000. The volunteers have cut that number at least in half. In fact, the only paid labor necessary was for the boring and trenching to lay power, electric, cable and internet lines. "And of course," says Kalvig, "we hope that the volunteer labor continues through the completion of the complex."

Also contributing to making the dream a reality are donations of $15,000 from the Drakes Baseball Boosters, $1,500 from the Softball Boosters, a $20,000 grant from the George W. Neilson Foundation, $1,000 from the Blackduck Firemen's Relief Fund, $500 from the Blackduck Lions, and many private donations of varying amounts.

"There are three more funding requests that have not yet been issued, but we're hopeful," said Kalvig.

The new outdoor sports complex will feature four new structures - with add-ons and remodeling to others. A single structure that will make taking in the spring games much more comfortable is a centrally located building that has easy access from the varsity and junior varsity fields as well as the softball field. The building will include the junior varsity dugout and storage space, two restrooms, a concession stand, and a covered patio on either end with views of all three fields. The softball field dugouts are receiving a facelift with new siding, and a press box is being added to the west end of the home dugout. On the baseball side, the high school will have a new set of dugouts and a press box and a relocation of the backstop due to the needs of the renovation.

These improvements will increase the comfort and attractiveness of both playing and watching spring sports as well as giving the fields permanent sound systems for local announcers and radio play-by-play. Previously a sound system had to be set up for each individual day and game - making a lot of extra work and being hard on the equipment and cables moved.

If all goes as planned, the outdoor sports complex will be complete by Nov. 1.

The coaches say they appreciate that the school was willing to listen, analyze and approve the project, but add that the donated labor was the turning point in going from dream to reality. "We are fortunate to have professionals who willingly gave us their time and effort." Kalvig said. "The volunteer spirit is alive and well in Blackduck."