Greatest of All Time throws out first pitch at Champ’s Field

Published 2:59 pm Monday, May 24, 2004

By By JAMES COLLINS / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- Through a generous donation, Muhammed and Lonnie Ali helped to make the new Champ's Field a reality and the two were on hand Saturday to help celebrate its inaugural season.
Though the field has been used for a handful of games already this year, its official Dedication Day was held this weekend.
The Alis, whose son Asaad is a member of the Niles Vikings Junior Baseball, donated about $125,000 for the construction of the field.
The champ came out to the pitcher's mound to throw out the ceremonial first pitch.
Ali played to the crowd by whirling his arm around in circles to wind up for an underhand pitch, he then changed gears and delivered the traditional overhand throw to his son behind home plate.
As the games began, the presence of the greatest champ of all time still seemed to be the center of attention for many of the fans.
Ali parked himself at a table behind the field and took time to interact with his admirers by signing autographs and posing for pictures.
Located on Niles Community Schools property between Howard and Ellis Schools on Mannix Street, the field, which is now the home to the Niles Junior Baseball teams, is a far cry from the eight-foot rusty backstop that the teams called home last year.
In addition to being a beautiful new baseball field, the facility includes two covered dugouts, bullpens, batting cages and a press box/concession stand with public restrooms.
Because the field will become the official home for the entire Kalamazoo-Comstock League, the Niles Junior Baseball teams have gone from having no home games in the past, to having virtually all home games this year.
Before Saturday's games began, there was a short ceremony in the infield featuring comments from league officials and community members who played a role in making the field a reality.
All of the speakers expressed pride in having such a quality field to call home and all reiterated a special thanks to the Alis for their generous donation that paid for the field's construction.
Lonnie Ali, who also spoke at the ceremony, said the field would not have been possible without the tremendous amount of support from the community.
She called baseball a family activity that brings the community together and was happy to facilitate the growth of the sport in Niles and its surrounding communities.
Tim Fritz, president of Niles Junior League Baseball, said many of the players are still in awe of having such a great home field.
Greg Jurgonski, coach of the Niles Knights, who has travelled to nearly every baseball field in Southwestern Michigan, said Champ's Field really stands out.
He expects the field will encourage more Niles youth to pick up baseball in the future.
Niles Junior Baseball Vikings coach Jim Brawley indicated that he is already seeing the impact that this field is having on the younger kids in Niles.