Seven years around the horn: Luray’s investment in Ralph Dean Park pays dividends

There are plenty of quaint charms that give Luray that small-town America feel — the mom and pop businesses, the pastel charms, the funky quirks.

Then, there’s Ralph Dean Park.

Tempered glass, stadium seating and an air conditioned press box are generally uncommon features at baseball parks in rural America. But in 2010, the Luray Council made the decision to invest nearly $1 million into two fields and a concession stand in one corner of Ralph Dean Park. The hope was to draw attention to Luray as an appealing host for large intra-state and inter-state regional competitions.

The project has been an overwhelming success, with several different tournaments of varying size and scope beelining to Luray for its modernized facilities.

“There were only a few tournaments in Luray at first, but we’ve dramatically increased the number of events here over the years,” said Pat O’Brien, Director of Parks and Recreation for the Town of Luray. “Eight years ago, the event schedule card was a quarter-page. Now, it’s a full page,
front and back.”

That investment has paid dividends. From July 2010, just months after the project was completed, through this current summer of 2017, at least one major tournament has been held in Luray each summer. There have been two highly visible tournaments scheduled just this month, though the second — the Baseball Nation state tournament — was forced to relocate to Bridgewater because of the concurrent madness of Cooter’s Last Stand.

Still, being in the position to turn down one big event because of any even bigger one is a pretty good position for the town to be in.

“We felt that, with all the additional people in town, it wouldn’t be a smart idea to keep the tournament,” O’Brien said. Now, Babeball Nation is relocating to Bridgewater for the weekend.

Originally, the additions to Ralph Dean Park were made in anticipation of landing Little League’s Southeast Invitational Softball Tournament, which brought in teams from more than 10 states. Luray hosted that tournament from 2010 through 2013, as part of a four-year deal with the town.

The Southeastern Invitational has since moved on, though, as it rotates throughout the region every few years. It may one day return to Luray.

In the meantime, Ralph Dean Park hasn’t sat empty. Baseball Nation and Softball Nation, both of which O’Brien says he’s “heavily involved with,” love to bring business to Luray. Between the two organizations, they’ve scheduled more than 30 events at Ralph Dean Park since April 2014.

To upgrade the park, the town originally intended to issue bonds worth around $750,000. However, by the time the project was completed, it ended up costing $900,000. The town still owes $266,000 of the original loan; according to an article published in the News and Courier in July 2013, it owed $341,000 four years ago.

Most recently, Luray hosted the Little League state tournament for baseball players ages 9, 10 and 11. Though the fields were originally designed for softball, it’s actually a multi-use field; adding a mound and “converting” it to a baseball surface is a simple, straightforward process.

According to Mary Ridgeway, the president of the Luray Little League, Ralph Dean Park will host the 12U Little League softball tournament next summer.

“Luray has turned into an event town,” O’Brien said. “It’s a four-season recreation destination.”

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