Popular Rosenblatt memorial arch almost didn't happen

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Posted: Thursday, June 27, 2013 12:00 am

The old Rosenblatt arch that was resurrected as a feature of the Infield at the Zoo memorial has become a popular photo backdrop for tourists and other nostalgia lovers.

And to think: it almost never came to be.

Dave Ciaccio, whose firm designed the mini baseball diamond around the old Blatt’s home plate site, said he was hesitant at first about using the arch. He thought it might be a little too pretentious or out of scale.

But every time he hears a story -- like of the elderly couple who had their photo shot while they smooched on the pitcher’s mound with the arch overhead -- he is glad he was persuaded otherwise.

“They were right,” he said, of people like his design partner Tom Bentley, who pushed for it. “That arch really puts the personalized signature on the whole place.”

Ciaccio, a landscape architect and owner of Vireo, invested about three years into Johnny Rosenblatt’s Infield at the Zoo, a memorial for the stadium that played host to the College World Series for 60 years. The conceptual design was created by Ciaccio, Bentley and Henry Doorly Zoo director Dennis Pate, while Bentley handled detailed design.

The Little League-size infield, which includes several elements that conjure up the old days, opened in time for this year’s CWS.

When developing the plan for the memorial, Ciaccio’s team walked around the now-demolished stadium countless times. “It was quiet. We walked, stood and felt the place and asked, ‘What is special about this?’”

From a design standpoint, Ciaccio said, the old Blatt “was pretty basic.” They opted to create something that evoked emotion, he said. More than structure, they focused on achieving a spirit.

“We’ve accomplished the mission,” Ciaccio said, adding that a tear came to his own eye when he read a newspaper account last week of the 88-year-old Mississippi man rounding the bases in a wheelchair.

And he is still wondering about the backstory of the affectionate elderly couple. Was Rosenblatt the site of their first date? Maybe their first kiss.

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