Baseball and Cracker Jack -- instead of bands and ribs -- starred Saturday morning at the newly renovated site of Ribfest in Naperville, Knoch Park.
Two Naperville Little League teams became the first to use the upgraded field No. 5 as they played their season opener and celebrated the league's 60th season.
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"Today we celebrate the complete renovation of the south part of Knoch Park," said Mike Reilly, president of the Naperville Park District's board of commissioners, during a ceremony before the first game. "We're pleased that these new ball fields are ready in time for Naperville Little League's opening day, which kicks off their 60th season."
The first contest on the field, at the southeast corner of West Street and Martin Avenue, featured the 10- through 12-year-old members of the Naperville Baseball Academy Cubs and the VFW Cardinals.
Before pitcher Nicolas Jardine of the Cardinals threw the first pitch of the season, Richard Strang, Naperville Little League's operations manager, and Mayor George Pradel lobbed ceremonial first pitches of their own.
"I'm proud of our fields and the park district, which has really done an amazing job in order to make the fields wonderful," Pradel said. "I especially want to thank the park district for always putting us first for the quality of life that we all enjoy in Naperville."
Renovations to the south section of Knoch Park began in 2011 and were funded with grant money from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Field and park improvements include accessible concrete paths to the fields, a picnic shelter, a multiuse path that connects to trails at nearby Edward Hospital, a new playground and a new restroom building.
One other new element -- a 10,000-gallon underground cistern to hold rainwater for field irrigation -- can't be seen, but is helpful for maintaining good field conditions at one of Naperville's busiest parks, Reilly said.
"This is a very important park for Naperville," he said.
Watching his 10-year-old son Tom play for the Cardinals, Brian O'Malley of Naperville said the renovated field is top quality.
"We're kind of spoiled here," he said. "The fields these kids play on are beautiful."
Baseball fields can be memorable places for children who grow up playing on them, Strang said, so "it is our job to make sure this becomes a favorite place for our youth."