Cene Park Holds the Home-Field Advantage

By Jim Houck

Bob Cene Sr., who died 17 years ago, was shrewd in how he avoided directly answering questions about how much it cost to build and operate his pristine baseball complex with three playing fields in Struthers.

“It’s more than a little bit, but not too much,” Cene Park director of operations Scott Ruark remembers him saying.

While that financial information is held closer to the vest than a catcher’s chest protector, the sheer volume of games played in the ballpark and community support behind it suggests it’s a significant number.

For starters, more than 15 grounds crews maintain the fields from March through October, 10 people prepare and sell concessions, and still others perform game day logistics, gate admissions, public-address announcing, statistics, website updates and back-office duties.

Then there are the utilities and materials costs of lighting and maintaining three well-manicured fields that see 900 games combined in a given season.

“About two years ago we re-did all three fields to a playing surface that’s the same playing surface you’ll see at PNC Park,” Ruark says. “The expense that we have now is just maintaining that with the top layer of dressing called crushed red brick.”

The field improvements were done by DuraEdge of Grove City, Pa., which also happens to be the sponsor of a team in Youngstown Class B Baseball Inc., the 501(c)(3) organization that Cene Park falls under. As of two years ago, the ballpark completely separated from Astro Shapes, the neighboring aluminum extrusion company Cene founded in 1971.

The family connection continues, however, as Cene’s grandson, Ryan Cene, serves as executive director of the ballpark and of Youngstown Class B Baseball, overseeing the business end of the operations. His father, Bob Cene Jr., is the CEO.

“Some of my best memories here are with [my grandfather],” Ryan Cene says. “My first job here was miscellaneous labor, which in reality was picking up trash.

“He always told us there’s no reason to visit his grave because this is where he lives. His legend and legacy live on from here. A lot goes into keeping this park running, but it’s a labor of love for all involved.”

CeneFieldGuysScott Ruark, Cene Park director of baseball operations, and Ryan Cene, the park’s executive director, organize scores of workers to ensure that game day – nearly every day of the week – goes smoothly.

Gate admissions to high school games and tournaments are the primary source of funding Cene Park operations – there’s no admission charge to watch for Class B games. Other revenue sources include outfield wall advertisements, a golf-outing fundraiser and a concession stand whose menu offerings rival some of the Mahoning Valley’s top restaurants.

“Our most popular item by far is the grilled chicken wrap and fries,” says concessions manager Mary Ann Cimmento. A good night is the sale of 50 to 100 chicken wraps. “It comes with lettuce, tomato, cheese and ranch dressing in a burrito shell,” Cimmento says. “And now you can get it crispy or grilled.”

Cene Park also sells hamburgers, hot dogs, pepperoni rolls, soft pretzels, ice cream, cappuccino and root beer floats. The concessions stand is open seven days a week whenever games are played, which can mean 14-plus hour days for staff during tournament weekends.

As for corporate sponsors, Ruark says Cene Park offers a unique opportunity for local companies to get exposure and give back to the community.

“What they get is a lot of good advertising,” he says. “More than 50,000 spectators come through to see the 800 to 900 games we play, plus it shows local community support.”

Creekside Fitness began sponsoring a Class B team in 2012 when its owner, Ed Reese, recognized the opportunity to give back after another long-time sponsor backed out.

“Class B baseball was one of my first memories for me as a kid who grew up near the bright lights of Pemberton Park,” Reese says. “Since then, my kids played at Cene Park and Mr. Cene became a good friend of mine.

“It was our turn [to sponsor a team], to support the youth in the community and their families and to give them the same experience my sons had. Youngstown is such a family-based community. People read the newspaper and keep up with the teams and players they know, and while that’s not the main reason we do it, the business certainly gets noticed, particularly when our team is doing well like we are now.”

Spectators at Cene Park include locals, fans of traveling teams at tournament time, and college and Major League Baseball scouts, who, according to Ruark, say the facilities and competitive level of play make the complex “the best place to come and see 15 games in one day.”

“To watch 30 different teams and 600 different players at one park in one day, that’s our competitive advantage,” Ruark says.

Cene Park opened its first field in 1995, with the other two fields added later.

“The facility is beautiful, and the fans are always there,” says DuraEdge player Zachary Senchak of New Castle, Pa. “In between every game, they water the field and drag it just for us. It means a lot and shows how much they care about us.”

In charge of maintaining what Ruark has heard regular visitors call a “hidden treasure” in the Mahoning Valley is Ron Bovo. Bovo describes himself as a “game guy.” It’s Bovo who ensures game nights run smoothly, even when the previous game ran long or a heavy rain falls.

“Rain is our biggest challenge,” Bovo says. “Mother Nature, there’s nothing you can do with it. We have a new product on our field for the last two years and it loves water. Very seldom do we get rainouts. The only time we get rainouts is if it’s an excessive downpour or lightning.

“But I love it. I can’t explain how much I love this place. The people are great. They make me feel important. They always tell me I’m doing a great job.”

It’s a job Bob Cene Sr. would have certainly appreciated as his vision of a showpiece ballpark continues to operate.

“The most satisfaction is when I come to the park and see the lights on,” Ryan Cene says. “That’s my grandfather there. So that means a lot that these fields continue to run and every year they’re better and better.”

Pictured at top of page: Ryan Cheslik, Matt Dayton and Eric Ostrowski play for the DuraEdge team.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.