A Field of Dreams: WMS Alum Renovates Baseball Field in Underserved Neighborhood as Eagle Project

Matthew Graesser, Class of 2009
When WMS alumnus Matthew Graesser was 13, he told his parents that he wanted to renovate a baseball field in an underserved city neighborhood for his Eagle Scout project. His desire grew out of a weekend of games that his summer travel baseball team played at a rundown field in South Philadelphia. Struck by the condition of the field, Matthew began to appreciate the quality of the fields on which his team typically played. He realized that the kids on the other team loved baseball as much as he did and he felt that they deserved to play on a well-kept field too. This summer, 16-year-old Matthew, a 2009 WMS alumnus, current 11th grader at The Tatnall School, and Life Scout with Boy Scout Troop 99 in Bellefonte, achieved his goal.

Matthew’s project consisted of extensive renovation of a baseball field owned by the H. Fletcher Brown Boys and Girls Club in Wilmington to make the field usable for baseball, softball and other recreational activities. When he first saw the field in March, the condition was discouraging - the field was run down; there were holes, divots and trash scattered about, and an adjacent pavilion in right field posed an injury risk to outfielders who might be going deep after long hits. However, Matthew noticed that an old backstop was in tact and could envision the potential for this to become a useable field. When he met with the director of the H. Fletcher Brown Boys and Girls Club and other Club executives, he knew that this would be the field he would renovate.

Getting Started
Matthew’s goal was to provide a safe, maintainable field to be used year-round by Club children for athletic activities and to establish a home field for the 12u RBI baseball and softball teams scheduled to begin play this coming spring. RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) is an outreach program sponsored by Major League Baseball whose mission is to increase participation in baseball and softball, encourage academic achievement, and teach the value of teamwork among underserved youth. Previously, the H. Fletcher Brown Boys and Girls Club could not participate in RBI baseball and softball leagues since their location lacked an adequate field.

Once Matthew's plan was approved by the Boys and Girls Club, his Scoutmasters and the Powder Mill District of the Boy Scouts of America, Matthew sought to secure donations for the materials needed. Fortunately, one of Matthew’s Scoutmasters, Ken Neborak, is the Urban Park Supervisor at the University of Pennsylvania. Neborak brought to the project his years of experience in the maintenance of athletic facilities along with some very good business connections. Ultimately, persistence paid off and Matthew found that people were very interested in and supportive of the project. In the end, generous donors saved the Boys and Girls Clubs of Delaware nearly $2,500 on material costs and equipment rentals, making the entire project possible.

Creating the Field
The actual physical work took place over two weekends in late June. Over the course of four days, 47 individuals came to the site at North Spruce Street and worked for a total of 260 hours. It was hot, dirty and backbreaking work. On the second day, the sod cutter they had rented broke down. Even though Matthew’s dad and Neborak were able to repair the machine, it didn’t function as expected, leaving the crew to do a fair amount of extra work by hand. Matthew was tired and his back hurt; the weather was hot and humid, and he felt discouraged, but he said, “I knew that as the project leader, I needed to stay upbeat. I checked in with my volunteers and acknowledged how hard the work was, suggested taking water breaks and tried to be encouraging.” In spite of this setback, they finished the work on schedule.

Scouts and leaders from four Boy Scout troops, as well as Matthew's friends and family, came out and provided work essential to the successful completion of the project. While Matthew was grateful for their assistance, he was most impressed by the seven neighborhood children who came to join in the work each day. These children, ranging from 7 to 13 years of age, worked tirelessly and with enthusiasm on their new field. One youngster in particular was so dedicated that he was at the field each morning waiting for them to arrive and he never stopped working until they left for the day. At the end of the final work day, the Club kids and a dozen volunteers played a pick-up game with some equipment Matthew brought from home. The kids really liked trying on Matthew’s old catcher’s gear and taking their turns at bat. 

"Play Ball!"
Upon arriving to the field for the final day of work, Matthew discovered that a group of kids had been so determined to play ball following the previous day’s work that they found a length of discarded two-by-four and an old tennis ball and tried to play using the board as a bat. It became clear to him that if the field is to be used, these children will need proper equipment in order to learn the game and be safe. There are thousands of youth in Wilmington who have access to high-quality bats, gloves, shoes, and other gear that they use and then outgrow within a year or two. In cooperation with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Delaware, Matthew is currently holding an equipment drive at Tatnall to benefit the Clubs and the children they serve to give these boys and girls the full complement of equipment they need to play baseball, softball and other sports requiring expensive gear. 

Additionally, most of the Club children have little to no experience with baseball and softball and will need to learn the fundamentals to be ready for RBI league play. After being approached by Tod Van Eyken, Director of the Brown Club, Matthew contacted Pat Jones, Tatnall's athletic director, and Marc Scott, who heads the Service Learning Program for the Tatnall Upper School. Jones and Scott agreed to help Matthew recruit fellow baseball teammates and coaches to run a few clinics at the Club in advance of RBI team formation in the spring. After the completion of the baseball field and his Eagle Scout Project, Matthew decided to volunteer a few weeks this summer at the Club. Van Eyken observed that Matthew was particularly effective with a youngster who often exhibited behavioral problems, saying that, “Matthew is the only one he would listen to some days.” Van Eyken speculated that it was this child’s involvement with helping Matthew to renovate the field that forged this strong bond. Matthew thinks the clinics will be useful and enriching to both the kids at the Club as well as those involved in running the clinics.

“It’s important that we learn about the needs of people in our community and work to increase opportunities for children in underserved neighborhoods," Matthew said. "The best way to do that is through direct involvement. Getting to know the children who would be using the field made this experience so much more rewarding. It made me want to continue to be involved even after the requirements for my Eagle Scout project were completed.”

When Matthew thinks back to this project, he will remember the day when he stood back and saw the field done for the first time:

“Baseball is something I have loved my whole life. Being able to see a baseball field where there was no field before and know that I helped make it happen was a dream come true. It was worth all the work just to see the kids having fun on the field that I helped build.”

If you would like to help Matthew get needed athletic equipment to the children served by the Boys and Girls Clubs of Delaware, please contact him at If you would like to donate directly to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Delaware, you may contact Van Eyken, Director of the H. Fletcher Brown Boys and Girls Club, at


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