Gilbert Parks and Recreation Robert Carmona

Gilbert Parks and Recreation Robert Carmona is flanked by Councilman Eddie Cook on the left and Rick Perreault of the U.S. Specialty Sports Association;s Arizona chapter as well wishers from Carmona’s department celebrate the Cactus Yards award for Park of the Year.

Cactus Yards has hit a home run for its qualities such as amenities, upkeep and prices.

The U.S. Specialty Sports Association recognized the town-owned sports facility by presenting Parks and Recreation Director Robert Carmona and his staff with its Outstanding Park of the Year Award for 2019 at last week’s Town Council meeting.

“There are many factors our customers consider when voting on the outstanding park of the year, which some include park amenities, appearance, cleanliness, maintenance, food selection (and) quality pricing,” said Rick Perreault, the Arizona state co-director of the nonprofit, volunteer sports governing body for 13 amateur sports.

Perreault said Craft Culinary Concepts, the town’s contracted food and beverage provider for Cactus Yards near Elliot and Power roads “received really high scores and pretzels were mentioned as the overall favorite item offered.”

He added Gilbert residents commented they appreciated the town not charging them gate fees and giving them discounts on food and beverages.

“We even had some non-residents said they were relocating to Gilbert just because of it,” he said.

Overall, in the 10 categories with a ranking of 0 to 10 being the highest, Cactus Yards scored 9.9 – “the highest score ever recorded for this award,” Perreault said.

“Park staff’s customer service received the highest possible score of 10 with many compliments on the maintenance of the fields, which were lacking in recent years,” he said, adding:

“I held the first tournament played at Cactus Yards in mid-February 2019 during the Presidents’ holiday weekend and the positive customer comments were overwhelming compared to recent years of another organization running the park before it was closed for lack of maintenance and major safety concerns.”

Big League Dreams previously operated the $40-million facility featureing scaled-down replicas of eight pro-baseball fields such as Fenway Park in Boston and Yankee Stadium in New York, a 20,000-square-foot indoor soccer pavilion and batting cages.

In 2017, Gilbert abruptly shut the facility down, citing safety and maintenance concerns and severed its 2005 contract with Big League Dreams, faulting it for not doing upkeep.

The two sued each other for damages with both finally reaching a settlement agreement in December after a two-year protracted legal battle. Each agreed to   dismiss their claims and pay their own attorney fees and costs.

Also, Gilbert in 2015, won a $13.5 million settlement from M. A. Mortenson Co., the facility’s builder and used the money to pay for the facility’s fixes during the roughly 18-month shut down.

 The sports facility had been plagued with construction defects such as improperly installed plywood outfield walls and poor drainage since it debuted in January 2008.

When the park re-opened in February 2019, it had a new name, Cactus Yards, and a new operator, the town.

Mayor Jenn Daniels thanked the organization for the recognition and noted the park staff opened two other parks besides Cactus Yard in 2019.

“Our staff and customers appreciate the town taking back the park and making the decision to operate it,” Perreault said. “Cactus Yards is the best overall ballpark in the state of Arizona for our baseball tournaments and leagues. It’s also now nationally recognized by out-of-state teams as the place they want to play, bringing in economic impact to the community.”