By Thomas Sellers Jr.
The historic USA Stadium is currently undergoing a makeover.
Once the home for the USA Olympic Baseball team to train and a destination for junior college team to reach the World Series, now the complex in Millington is transforming into a top level baseball facility for youth and collegiate age sluggers and pitchers to play.
“Current form would be tournament entity would probably be the easiest way to put it,” USA Stadium Vice President of Operations Johnny Ray said. “We’re a destination for junior colleges, most who have come through during the Junior College World Series time. That when they found out about this place and wanted not to come in May. But make a trip South for warmer weather during the earlier part of the season.”
Ray knows the history of USA Stadium well being associated with the complex as a player, coach, manager and a fan.
“We host junior colleges, four-year schools, high school in the spring and then summer and fall we’ll host travel ball tournaments,” he noted.
Back in June 2020, the announcement was made that a group from Alabama purchased GameDay Baseball in Cordova and Millington’s USA Stadium. Upper Deck Sports, LLC, a four-person group, invested about $5 million into the two facilities.
Upper Deck Sports is a private firm buying USA Stadium from the City of Millington. The longtime Flag City venue was once home of the U.S. Baseball Olympic team from 1986-96. It was the training site for the team before heading to Seoul, South Korea; Barcelona, Spain and Atlanta, Ga.
“We also manage the facility in Cordova, GameDay,” Ray said. “It’s a 10-field complex that caters to ages 7-14. What we have here pretty much is going to be 13 and up into college. GameDay has the younger kids. We’ve got the bigger kids with the bigger fields. They’ll graduate up to here at some point.”
Currently the main stadium in Millington has new turf and four other fields are being constructed.
“The first thing everybody is going to see that is new, we have new field turf put in and we’ve always had the two fields,” he noted. “The main stadium and No. 2, we’ve 100 percent turfed the main stadium. No. 2 is currently just a turfed infield with a natural grass outfield. As you drove through a lot mud coming in, we’ve got a lot of construction going on. Within a month we’re going to have fields 3 and 4 which will be 100-percent turfed. Sometime this summer, don’t hold me to a timeline, we hope to have field 5 and 6 ready. We just need to get all those approved.”
More noticeable changes will be coming to the USA Stadium complex located at 4351 Babe Howard Avenue.
“One problem with trying to schedule large events in the past was lights,” Ray recalled. “The main stadium was the only field with lights. All of these other fields we’re putting in will have lights. This place will look like a landing strip once we have all six fields lit up with lights.
“Nationwide, we’ve entered a relationship, agreement and contract with Perfect Game,” he continued. “They are the nation’s largest baseball tournament entity at the high school level. They’re the cream of the crop. We’re a national headquarter playing site for them. They have different levels. They have a blue which is the lowest level. We have a red which means that we have their input. We have their backing for tournaments.”
With USA Stadium staying true to its roots of national tournaments and giving young baseball players a top-notch facility to shine, Ray said those who live in Millington, Shelby County and West Tennessee should make the trip to take in a few games.
And another area appeal will be inviting teams within a 50-mile radius to compete on one of the fields.
“Or course we want to target the local market too because there are a lot of teams now they don’t have to travel to Atlanta or Birmingham for a showcase,” he said. “They can be more cost effective and stay home and stay in their own bed.”
While USA Stadium will keep the relationships with the local high school teams, the history of the USA will be preserved as well. Founder of the facility W.S. “Babe” Howard passed away in 2008. The Millington entrepreneur and icon used the 126 acres of land first for American Legion Baseball and eventually Team USA.
Howard used the complex for more than just baseball. He loved fainting goats, so he founded an annual International Goat Days Festival. Other interest for the late Howard were revering nature and wildlife. He personally risked $4 million to ensure 4,076 pristine acres went to the Wolf River Conservancy and State of Tennessee instead of loggers and developers. But several people associate Howard’s legacy with USA Stadium.
“Babe Howard’s sister, Mrs. B’Lou Carter, set right there a couple of weeks ago,” Ray said. “She’s going to give us all her memorabilia. The old Gift Shop is going to be constructions into a USA Stadium/USA Baseball museum. That was a big deal that we could get her blessing.
“We’re going to have some type of bust or plaque, not only with Mr. Howard, important figures to the Stadium over the years,” he added. “Honor those who were around USA Stadium during that time.”
Those players, coaches and fans who will visit the new USA Stadium in the future will have a first hand encounter with the old history of the facility.
“As we build these fields, we won’t have people saying, ‘Oh you’re playing on Field 1,’” Ray explained. “Or, ‘You’re playing on Field 2.’ No they’re going to be saying you’re playing on Babe Howard or Mrs. B’Lou Carter field. I’ve got five names pull out already for the first 5 fields. I think I’ve got the sixth one. Of course the main stadium will be Babe Howard as you could imagine. The other ones will be properly named after others.”
All the changes at USA Stadium has a buzz around Flag City, Shelby County and further.
“The one thing that we’ve found out as word has gotten out, there is a lot of interest in what we are doing here,” Ray said. “Not only locally, but across the region and across the state. We’re getting a lot of call of people who want to involved in what we’re doing here. If you are a baseball fan, you can watch a lot of baseball at an economical price. You can come in here and see people from all across the country.”
The names who have come through USA Stadium are a baseball who’s who with Alex Rodriguez, Frank Thomas and many more. With a strong legacy to build off, USA Stadium has plenty of room for additional growth.
“We’re family friendly and we’re taking in great ideas and renovations coming,” Ray concluded. “In time we’ll be a little bit more than just baseball. We could possibly branch off into different sports. We’ll still have our works here. These are all hypothetical, we don’t have anything worked out. But we could still have fireworks, Goat Days and things of that nature. We have not written it off that could possibly be here.”