Posted August 19, 2010 | comments Leave a comment

'Refreshing' changes

Jay Neal stands inside a dugout
Jay Neal, general manager of the Strasburg Express baseball team, which joins the Valley League next year, stands inside a dugout at First Bank Park, the home of Strasburg High School baseball. Neal has applied for a $250,000 Pepsi Refresh Project grant in hopes of upgrading the stadium for the town's high school and the future valley league teams. Rich Cooley/Daily

By Amber Marra - amarra@nvdaily.com

STRASBURG -- Jay Neal, general manager of the new Valley League Baseball team coming to Strasburg next season, wants to make sure his players are not left in the dark.

In order to replace a 20-year-old lighting system Neal refers to as "horrid" at Strasburg High School's baseball field, he has applied for a $250,000 grant via the Pepsi Refresh Project.

"If you're gonna go for something, you might as well go all out," Neal said.

The Pepsi Refresh Project consists of $23 million the soft drink company had originally set aside for commercials at next year's Super Bowl.

Instead, that money will go toward projects generated by members of communities both large and small looking to improve the world around them, much like Neal's goal for a brighter future for the home of both the Strasburg Rams and eventually the Valley League's Strasburg Express.

"The field is a nice field, it's one of the finest playing surfaces in the area, but we've had games where some of the lights have just gone off," he said.

Neal has been trying to apply for the grant through Pepsi since March, but said that there were times when the limit of 1,000 applications per month would be met a mere 30 or 40 seconds after the submission window would open at midnight at the first of the month.

Now that the application has successfully gone through, it needs votes, and lots of them.

The only way the $250,000 will find its way into the hands of the Express and Strasburg High School is if it beats out the hundreds of other ideas in the neighborhood category vying for the grand prize by gaining the most votes on the Pepsi Refresh Project website.

"We will not be the project that tugs at people's hearts the most," Neal said. "Don't get me wrong, I love baseball, but there are many wonderful projects out there that deal with things far more important than sports."

The problem is, only two projects are awarded the $250,000 grant per month.

Though the high school's athletic director, Matt Hiserman, has been looking into a solution to the overheating lights for some time, it was not until he caught wind of Pepsi's grant program that he had any inkling of how to come up with Musco Sports Lighting's estimated cost of $150,000 to $180,000.

"It's an easy way for us to get this thing taken care of," Hiserman said.

The lights are not the only part of the field that need improvement. Neal submitted a list of renovations he has planned to the Shenandoah County School Board last week.

The other changes include building new storage facilities, a new visitor dugout and bullpen, installing two new sets of bleachers, adding a simple locker room and gift shop, and creating portions of new fencing and handicapped-accessable sidewalks from the parking lot.

Polls will open Sept. 1 at 12:01 a.m. and there will be multiple ways to cast up to 10 votes per day. To view Strasburg's project profile and vote beginning Sept. 1, go to refresheverything.com/strasburgexpress and click "vote for this idea" after establishing a username and password with the site.

The website also features a Facebook application, and votes can also be cast via text message by sending the project's assigned number to "Pepsi."

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