Revamped youth ballpark in Austin mirrors community’s recovery from HIV outbreak

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AUSTIN, Ind. – In a small Indiana city that made national headlines three years ago, baseball remains a major focal point in the summertime.

The Scott County community does not have more than 5,000 citizens in its 2.6 square mile city, named after the capital of Texas, but has around 230 active cases of HIV.

The number represents roughly 5 percent of the city after the CDC said Austin contained “the largest drug-fueled HIV outbreak to hit rural America in recent history.”

City-council woman Staci Mullens, whose works directly with Austin’s HIV patients, remembers the rude awakening the city felt back in Feb. 2015.

“We didn’t expect this, the hardest thing the city went through was the stigma that came along with it,” recalled Mullens, “No one had ever dealt with an outbreak of this magnitude in Indiana.”

But they faced the issue head-on with support from multiple agencies and foundations across the country. Following the outbreak, Gov. Holcomb issued a state of emergency, prompting government funds to flow into the community with a rabid drug problem.

Soon after, the rate of the outbreak was stabilized and Austin began the recovery process. That now includes a needle exchange program, high school students taking the reins to educate their successors on the dangers of drug use…and of course, baseball.

Now three years after all of the national attention, the tiny city has a new ballpark to represent how far they’ve come.

Austin beat out Los Angeles, Kansas City, and a New Jersey suburb to win a $50,000 youth ballpark renovation contest put on by Major League Baseball. How you may wonder?

“A lot of social media votes, some from parents 4 or 5 times a day,” Mullens said with a laugh.

On Wednesday, many players and parents showed up for the dedication led by former MLB all-star and Cincinnati Red Eric Davis. It wasn’t a surprise as the community found out they won two months ago, but community members were shocked to see how it looks.

As for the players, they were able to take the field moments after the ribbon cutting. Davis, the 1990 World Series champion, led drills for kids anxious to play on the new field they love.

“The community comes together for games four to five times a week and the look on the kids’ faces was priceless,” Mullens said.

The field will be used for games right away, with plans to use the rest of the grant money on better lighting and a new scoreboard.

For a community still feeling the effects of the drug-fueled outbreak, the new field gives children a chance to do what they do best…be kids.

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