Kalamazoo Central athletic fields get major renovation care of Derek Jeter's Turn 2 Foundation

If you had the chance to watch a future hall-of-fame ball player shag grounders and hit homers at a local high school, would you?
You ask: How do you know he or she will be a Hall of Famer?
The quick answer: You don’t. But it has happened before at Kalamazoo Central High School. And the possibilities for the school to have more great performers – on and off the playing field -- are bundled into plans to rebuild the school’s baseball and softball fields.
“It’s obviously the field that Derek Jeter learned how to play on, so it just makes it hallowed ground at that level,” said Scott Spada, head baseball coach. “Then to have him make an investment and put it back into the community to raise awareness of baseball and give opportunities to our multicultural diverse community to play the game of baseball makes it extra special.”
Ground was broken Wednesday, June 21, 2023, on a $5.2 million project to renovate and improve Central’s baseball and softball fields. The grass fields where now-retired New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter played high school ball will be replaced with synthetic turf. The softball field will have a clay infield and synthetic turf outfield. The layout of the fields will be reorientated to minimize the impact of the afternoon sun on players.
The fields will also have new elevated aluminum bleachers, new precast concrete dugouts, new press boxes, bathrooms, galvanized fencing, backstop, and foul poles. They are expected to be completed in 2024.
Sharlee Jeter and Kalamazoo Central High School Principal Valerie Bogan at the groundbreaking.Kalamazoo Public School is contributing about $250,000 to the project. The balance is being contributed by Jeter’s Turn 2 Foundation, which was founded by Jeter in 1996. It has programs and activities focused on helping young people to become leaders, motivating them to turn away from drugs and alcohol, and “Turn 2” healthy lifestyles. Jeter, who was born in New Jersey but grew up in Kalamazoo, also wore the number 2.
During 20 seasons of play with the Yankees (1995-2014) he helped lead them to five World Series championships and in 2020 was inducted into Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame. He was not able to appear at Wednesday’s groundbreaking but in a prepared statement said, “Baseball and softball fields are where many young people recognize their passions and discover their ability to overcome challenges and succeed. Our hope is that when these young athletes step onto the new fields next year they feel empowered to accomplish anything they set their minds to. And I am excited to work with the community to bring our vision to life.”
Jeter’s sister Sharlee and her son Jalen traveled from New Jersey for the ground-breaking. She is president of the Turn 2 Foundation. Jeter’s father, Dr. Charles Jeter, traveled from Miami. He is vice chairman of the Turn 2 Foundation Board of Directors.
“This is our only field renovation project and probably will be our only field renovation project,” Sharlee Jeter said of the renovation work at Kalamazoo Central. Having attended Kalamazoo Central, she said, “There’s a lot of memories.”
She last used the softball fields as a player in 1997.
Kalamazoo Public School Board members joined leaders of Derek Jeter’s Turn 2 Foundation on Wednesday, June 21, 2023. She said she thinks adults have to give young people alternatives and give them something positive to do. She said, “Derek and I learned so many life lessons playing baseball and softball that I think that being able to provide this opportunity to young people is amazing.”
Kalamazoo Central Principal Valerie Boggan said that while most students may never meet Derek, they should know he was a student who walked the same hallways they have walked, but he is now doing great things. His impact will always be felt, she said, “not just the field, but in terms of the pride he is helping to instill.”
“When you drive on this campus and see how beautiful it is, you can say, ‘This is my school. This is where my footprints resonated with excellence,’” said Boggan. “And it’s all connected to pride, to believing in something.”
KPS Board President Ti’Anna Harrison said the renovation project and the efforts of the Turn 2 Foundation provide students an opportunity to find themselves “and it’s an opportunity for the community to come together to support the students who are finding themselves.”
But beyond that, she said, Derek Jeter brings a lot of hope.
Varsity softball player London Rabb, holding shovel at left, and varsity baseball player Devon Webster, holding shovel at right, are among the many Kalamazoo Central High School student expected to benefit from new ball fields.“What this really is is the opportunity to re-establish hope, not just with athletics but with academics, with the social-emotional piece that our students are missing.  This is a very, very, very big contribution to our community. And we’re very grateful for it.”
Spada, who has coached baseball at Central for 26 years,  said the main thing for baseball traditionalists will be the fact that the new field will be facing the proper direction. it will be facing northeast,” Spada says. The previous field faced southeast.
“It’s going to be kind of a one-of-a-kind (field) in the Kalamazoo area being that we’ll be the only turf field around," he said. That should give his team the advantage of being able to play games in the early spring when others may not be able.
“Obviously, the entire baseball and softball community at Kalamazoo Central is totally appreciative of everything that the Jeter family has already given back to us, and is currently giving back to us,” said Spada, who was recently inducted into the Michigan High School Coach's Association 2023 Hall of Fame. “And we’d just like to give our utmost gratitude and appreciation to them and know that we have the utmost respect for the family and everything that they’ve done.”
Major renovations of the Kalamazoo Central High School baseball and softball fields have begun, thanks to KC alumna Derek Jeter's Turn2 Foundation.Of the renovated fields, Boggan said, “It’s more than a baseball field and it’s more than a softball field. It’s evidence of a family sewing back into the community.”
She also said, “For our kids, it’s important to understand that your foundation is here. Kalamazoo Central and KPS, we provide a foundation. When you go out and change this world and make it a better place, you’ve got to come back. You’ve got to sew back into your community because others are looking at you.”

Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Al Jones.

Al Jones is a freelance writer who has worked for many years as a reporter, editor, and columnist. He is the Project Editor for On the Ground Kalamazoo.