The boys of summer were back in Atlantic City this week, as the sights and sounds of baseball returned to Surf Stadium.
The Atlantic Shore Devils hosted the Babe Ruth 14-year-old Middle Atlantic Regional tournament in a weeklong event that showed off the skills of the teen athletes and also showed the progress the city has made in bringing the stadium back from near death.
Atlantic City gets a lot of criticism, but resort leaders and workers certainly deserve praise for the effort that has gone into resuscitating the stadium. New turf, a new sound system and repairs to the sprinkler system, bathrooms and concession stands have made the former Sandcastle a great place to play ball again, something that was in doubt not long ago.
Like the successful music festivals the city has hosted at adjacent Bader Field, the renovations at Surf Stadium show what Atlantic City can accomplish when it puts its game face on.
And the teen players and their tournament were a wistful reminder of the days when professional baseball was played all summer at the stadium.
Built in 1998, the 5,000-seat stadium was home to the Atlantic City Surf professional baseball team for 11 seasons until the team folded in 2009.
When the Surf stopped using the stadium, its pipes were never winterized. The ensuing plumbing, electrical and mechanical problems were compounded by damage from vandals and vagrants. A couple of years later, it looked as if the stadium was reaching the point of no return, where its many problems would be just too costly to fix.
But early in 2011, the city committed $300,000 to repair the stadium, and by that July, it was in good enough shape to host the Atlantic City Summerfest hip-hop concert.
The city is spending an additional $800,000 to continue repairs on the stadium, but not without some bumps along the way. In June, a light pole collapsed, and an inspection showed that all six light poles need to be replaced. That meant the stadium couldn't host night games, which killed plans for a professional baseball series over Labor Day weekend.
The Babe Ruth tournament was described as a step toward bringing professional baseball back to the stadium. Here's hoping. But even if that doesn't happen, the Surf Stadium, with its intimate design and its magnificent views of Atlantic City's skyline and the back bay, could be a great venue for high school and college games, youth tournaments, concerts and other events.
The important thing is to see the stadium being used again. It would be a shame to lose this gem twice.