Hollywood built a stadium and local ballplayers came running.
JOSHUA AXELROD Pittsburgh Post-Gazette [email protected] AUG 4, 2022 5:39 PM
Most Hollywood movies and shows that film on location don’t leave much behind once production wraps. Anyone stepping foot on the Community College of Allegheny County’s Boyce Park campus, though, will have direct access to a piece of impending television history for as long as it remains standing.
Last year, Amazon Studios and Sony Pictures Television built a brand-new baseball complex over the old CCAC Boyce field to serve as the home stadium for the Rockford Peaches in “A League of Their Own,” the TV adaptation of the 1992 Penny Marshall movie about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. The eight-episode first season that filmed throughout Western Pennsylvania last summer and fall is set to debut Aug. 12 on Amazon Prime Video.
The stadium was built to look at home both in World War II-era Rockford, Ill., and modern Western Pennsylvania so it could be used by the community in perpetuity. CCAC has already taken full advantage of the stadium’s presence on its Monroeville branch campus as both a home field for its newly rejuvenated baseball team and as an invaluable recruitment tool.
“We really appreciate the exposure we’re receiving,” Bob Keslar, CCAC’s athletic director, told the Post-Gazette. “The show isn’t even out yet and people are talking about it. It’s been a great relationship, and we’re really grateful for this opportunity to showcase our facilities and our athletes.” Joshua AxelrodAmazon drops first trailer for locally filmed ‘A League of Their Own’ series“A League of Their Own” producer James Dodson during construction of the Rockford Peaches’ home stadium on the campus of CCAC Boyce in June 2021.(Eric Dilucente)
‘Walking back in time’
Bill Spina recently completed his first year as CCAC’s head baseball coach after spending four years as an assistant. The Plum native grew up playing ball at the old CCAC Boyce field and said that it was a pretty nice ballpark “until the upkeep was neglected.”
That’s the state the field had fallen into when “A League of Their Own” location manager Eric Dilucente came across it in spring 2021.
“There wasn’t a stadium,” Dilucente said. “What they had was two dugouts and some wooden bleachers.”
The Forest Hills native with 30-plus years of entertainment industry experience had been scouring the East Coast for weeks to find a park suitable for the Peaches’ home stadium since filming of “A League of Their Own” was suddenly moved from California to Western Pennsylvania. The production also secured Aliquippa’s Morrell Field to film Peaches away games and built a smaller field on an industrial site in Ambridge for another important storyline.
Eventually, Dilucente, who took classes at CCAC before getting a degree at the University of Pittsburgh, narrowed down his choices for the Peaches’ home stadium to a field in Erie, Pullman Park in Butler and CCAC Boyce. CCAC’s spring baseball season was canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so their field wasn’t in use at the time. The crew ultimately opted to build over CCAC Boyce’s field in an effort to acquire “a permanent structure” they could use again for any subsequent seasons, Dilucente said.
Construction took place from May to July 2021. The entirely local crews did everything from pouring 120 yards of concrete for the base paths and foundation to obtaining specialty steel despite supply-chain issues. Anyone who appreciates the stadium’s 1940s aesthetic on “A League of Their Own” can thank the likes of Harmony-based contractor Modany Falcone and Downtown-based Atlantic Engineering Services for bringing the stadium to life.
“Our construction crews and our team were unbelievable,” Dilucente said. “When they build something, you feel like it was always there. You feel like you’re walking back into time.”CCAC catcher Derek Colon takes a swing during the district championship series against North Carolina’s Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute on May 13, 2022, on CCAC’s Boyce Park campus.(CCAC)
That stadium feel
Bob Kelley had only been CCAC’s assistant general counsel for about a month when the notion of building a stadium for “A League of Their Own” came to his attention. Since there was a lot of turnover happening at CCAC during that period, Kelley wound up being Dilucente’s primary point person and became a de facto “project advocate” trying to convince his colleagues that the new stadium could be “a showpiece for the college.”
When Kelley visited the construction site, he expected to find a “very nice skeleton of a ballpark.” Instead, he said “it was like stepping into a time capsule.” The stadium’s partially peeling paint and slightly rusted light fixtures made it feel like it had been there for many years.
“It took a while to get everything teed up from a contractual perspective,” Kelley said. “It overshot everyone’s expectations.”
Since “A League of Their Own” vacated the stadium, it has hosted a few youth teams, some local high school squads and served as the primary home field for CCAC’s baseball team. Keslar said some small adjustments were made to comply with current requirements. For example, since protective screens behind home plate didn’t exist in the 1940s, one had to be temporarily installed.
CCAC baseball enjoyed a terrific spring 2022 season that included winning both its conference and region. The new stadium was the site of a May district championship series in which CCAC ended up falling to North Carolina’s Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute. Keslar said that about 100 fans lined the grandstands for those contests, which Spina thinks is the “most attention we’ve had from the college probably ever as a baseball program.”
“The atmosphere is fantastic,” he said. “The sound from the audience really echoes and permeates. It gives you that really good stadium feel. … It gives you extra motivation as a player once you hear the roar from a crowd.”Abbi Jacobson, left, and Chanté Adams in the Pittsburgh-shot Amazon Prime Video series “A League of Their Own.” (Amazon Prime Video)
Pittsburgh Film Office director Dawn Keezer sees the CCAC Boyce stadium as physical evidence of the “far-reaching impacts” production work can have on local communities. In her estimation, the Western Pennsylvania crews who built it more or less from scratch “knocked it out of the park with a fabulous baseball stadium that I can’t wait to see on screen.”
As someone who had some connection to CCAC, Dilucente loved doing something for the school “that carries on and pays it forward to the community.” He hopes the stadium inspires fans to visit the Boyce campus once audiences see it in action on “A League of Their Own.”
“People don’t see the tourist value or advertisement value of filming,” he said. “Every neighborhood we go into, we spend tens of thousands of dollars and pump that into the local community. … That money is directly felt in all these communities. There are so many places where that makes a huge difference.”
One of those places is CCAC’s baseball program. Spina said that he has 13 returning players and 28 new recruits coming in this year. He believes the facilities Amazon and Sony created “played a large role” in convincing those players to give CCAC a shot.
If all goes well, the stadium will be open for public use “in a meaningful way” by next spring, Kelley said. Vlad St. Surin, CCAC’s dean of students for engagements, plans to hold a formal ribbon-cutting ceremony to commemorate the occasion.
“Everyone to some degree has an opportunity to make money, but very few have the opportunity to make history,” St. Surin said. “Because of the stadium being built, we have an opportunity to make history, build on it and serve our students.”
Classes at CCAC resume Aug. 22, and Spina plans to give his players a brief reprieve before fall-season practices start Aug. 29. He knows they’re excited to see their ballpark on “A League of Their Own” and said he’ll hold a viewing party for them once everyone is back on campus.
If the series does return to the area for more filming, he has no problems sharing his home field — as long as they can work around his team’s schedule.
“We thank them and hope the series is a success,” he said before adding with a chuckle: “We’re excited to get our field back 100%.”
Joshua Axelrod: [email protected] and Twitter @jaxelburgh.
First Published August 4, 2022, 6:00am