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Still a field of dreams

Andy Ouriel • Jun 12, 2013 at 3:19 PM

Lafonze Phillips stared intensely at his target nearly 50 feet away.

The lengthy 12-year-old boy then twisted his entire body, his left shoulder briefly pointing toward home plate.

His posture unraveled quickly, a roaring fastball exploding from his palm.

The end result: a crisp fastball darting toward home plate, splitting the pentagon's center.

Lafonze, a player in Sandusky's AMVETS baseball league, spends most his free time practicing with other teammates or playing pickup games with friends at Huron Park's field, located by CVS Pharmacy.

Despite an inferior playing surface, Lafonze's skills are top-notch.  

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Huron Park is missing a pitching rubber, and the mound is flatter than Wile E. Coyote, post-anvil.

Weeds poke up between baselines and batter boxes. There are no chalk lines separating fair and foul territories. The fence is sorely rusted, and it also curls up, inviting wild pitches and erroneous throws to trickle onto East Monroe Street.

Despite the property's shortcomings, Lafonze still considers Huron Park his field of dreams.

"Nothing's wrong with this field," he said. "I come down here every day to play on it. But I would like to see someone improve it so more people could come down here and play."

On a recent weekday, Lafonze practiced with about 30 of his teammates and competitors from two separate AMVETS baseball teams. Most of the players are his age, and most of them are black. They practice almost daily at Huron Park, given that AMVETS fields off Putnam Street are typically hosting games or are off-limits at certain times.

Until recently, players had batting practices and fielded grounders in the outfield because of the infield's horrid condition.

"It's horrible," said Lamarqus Carr, the AMVETS Dairy Queen coach, on the field's condition. "We are trying to get kids involved. Not everyone is going to ride out to Dorn Park to play baseball."

Inside baseball

Unfortunately for these players, Sandusky officials routinely fail to take care of Huron Park.

At a recent city meeting, commissioners Diedre Cole and Wes Poole urged staff members to drag the field once a month so kids could play baseball there.

City manager Nicole Ard and commissioner Jeff Smith balked at providing upgrades, claiming there aren't enough workers to occasionally maintain Huron Park.

Commissioner Julie Farrar, echoing Ard and Smith, suggested Poole seemed ignorant in asking grounds workers to clean up Huron Park.

"I guess you could get all that work done with just those four people and that wouldn't overwhelm you?" Farrar stated in an email to Poole. "You're so awesome."

Cole struck back with a heater of her own.

"From outward appearances, it looks like the poor inner-city kids get the crap field while those who can afford league participation get the well-adorned fields of Dorn Park and AMVETS Park," Cole wrote. "We just need to have the field repaired to a standard suitable for safety and reasonable use now."

A quick makeover came less than a week ago, but only immediately after the Register published a story about the neglected field and the internal bickering among city officials.

Batter up

Tim Schwanger, a city resident advocating for shoreline and park preservation, watched some Little League action on a recent weekday. While happy kids still play baseball at Huron Park, he seemed a bit depressed about the horrific conditions at the field.

"I grew up at this park and played here," Schwanger said. "It's important that we preserve the neighborhoods, especially the ballfields that urban city kids come to play at."

The number of blacks who play baseball continues to decline at an alarming rate, according to statistics, and a decaying park without scoreboards and dugouts certainly doesn't encourage participation.

Major League Baseball has reported a record-low 7.7 percent of African Americans on opening-day rosters, according to USA Today. It's the lowest such number since 1959, coinciding with the Boston Red Sox becoming the final team to integrate its roster. The percentage of blacks playing on Major League teams peaked to about 27 percent in 1975.

Sheyden Ahlers, 12, would love to see someone invest in his favorite park, so he and others can play there.

All he wants are simple upgrades — bases anchored into the infield, instead of on top of it. As it stands now, the bases just slide around anytime someone stomps on them.

"I just want a place where you can play ball," Sheyden said. "It's not good here."

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