Still a field of dreams

Despite neglecting its upkeep, city park remains a place where kids hone baseball skills.
Andy Ouriel
Jun 10, 2013

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."

 

Comments

donutshopguy

Folks the money is not there to maintain all the city's property to a pristine level. Stop bellyaching and grab a few friends and take care of the problem. Get off the entitlement bandwagon. This is our community. Stop expecting someone else to solve all your problems.

So it's the community's fault that African-American kids don't want to play baseball ?

Matt Westerhold's picture
Matt Westerhold

You comment seems a bit harsh, donutshopguy, pushing the boundaries of the comment guidelines. Your 'entitlement' suggestion seems offensive, but those kids matter despite your point of view.

The last time someone took to a lawnmower in a city park he was arrested. Sentencing this time around likely would be more severe. Sandusky Ex officio mayor John Hamilton hasn't commented on the decision to let the Huron Park ball field go to the weeds.

 

Forward Looking

Why can't the teams have a work session on the field to clean it up one weekend and then once a month? I agree with donutshopguy, as it seems that most people forget that they can call city hall to get a release form to have an organization sponsor a park. How many parks do Commissioners Poole and Cole sponsor? It is time for people to stop relying on the government to take care of everything and help out instead. The biggest problem with Sandusky is there are so many entitled people and most don't know how to take care of themselves or think that have a hand in making their community better. Why didn't Mr. Schwanger or Commissioners Poole & Cole organize a cleanup session with neighborhood families, Coaches, and players? It is not too late, they can still help maintain the community they call home rather than stirring the pot...guess they hang around Register too much.

deertracker

It's always about entitlements with you! Do you really think that only black kids want to enjoy the park in the summer? Don't you think city property should be maintained at least to a level a kid can enjoy? Isn't that what your "tax dollars" are for? Do you really think that only minorities need assistance? I see black and white kids hanging out all the time. A little black girl and a little white girl offered to shovel my driveway this past winter just to make a few bucks. Stop being so judgmental every time minorities are involved. You are the main reason I stopped eating donuts!

donutshopguy

Deer,

You are correct. It is about entitlement with me. I see our country being diluted through expectation of those living off the government. The city has a playing field but that's not enough. They deserve more. Well, if you want more, do more and stop expecting someone else to solve your problems.

It's not a race issue. It's a responsibility issue.

arnmcrmn

donut..I agree with you. When I was a child playing little league ball the fields in Willard were a disaster. Rocks everywhere, uneven playing field, grass that was spotty, no lights...etc. Several parents got together and did some fundraising and several dads worked on the fields to get them back into shape. There were some long days and nights that my dad and several other guys put in but in a short time, this field that was once a dump was pristine. The money they raised bought lights so we could have night games. Sometimes you have to have community involvement when the money isn't there. Creativity is lacking anymore.

deertracker

I am sure you walked 20 miles up hill both ways just to get to and from school too. SO WHAT! This is the 21st century. Get in it!

deertracker

The question was "Why"? Do you think you are the only tax payer in this county? They deserve a decent playing field. No one is suggesting it be turned into Wrigley field. Just a well groomed playing field. Exactly who is living off the government? You don't know if any of the kid's parents are living off the government. That is what makes your comment offensive. I wonder how many of those same kids eat donuts. Would you take their money or reject it because you think it came from the gov't?

Edwin Ison

Guess who cared for the fields when my kids played ball?
The parents!
We dragged the field, weeded the field, built storage buildings and dugouts and repaired fences as needed.
A few weekends of WORK would solve this so-called problem.

This story is a microcosm of the problem with Sandusky.

deertracker

If that is true you must be very old!

grandmasgirl

I am also "old" however, my husband is always telling his "when I was a kid" story. When he was young, the kids who wanted to play had to show up a half hour before practice or the game and walk the field picking up stones and debris. I realize that this is beneath the young people of today. MOST do expect someone else to clean things up so they can play. Also, the city only has so much money. It this field bothers you, help them clean it up AND THEN keep it clean.

Edwin Ison

Nope, just live in a different place.

Eph 2 8-10

AMEN!!! Heard over an over again--not my job. Yes, parents, it is your job as a community!

deertracker

No it is not!

arnmcrmn

more entitlement postings by deer....wow, im shocked.

sandtown born a...

Moderators have removed this comment because it contained Personal attacks (including: name calling, presumption of guilt or guilt by association, insensitivity, or picking fights).

sandtown born a...

Not real sure what triggered the comment being removed??? Maybe having a different way of looking at it isn't acceptable.

donutshopguy

Matt,

I'm not the one that first brought race into the picture. You article did with the your suggestive writing. I just called you out on it.

No where did I say the kids didn't matter. Somehow our country believes everyone is entitled to the same facilities. Are the facilities the same in Detroit as in Sandusky?

Kids need to just go out an play. You made it a political and race issue.

Common Sense

You are correct, donutshop guy, in asking if the facilities in Detroit are the same as in Sandusky. However, I think what this community is requesting is that ALL BASEBALL FIELDS in the city of Sandusky receive the same amount of attention. Is that really too much to ask? Shouldn't the people who use the Dorn baseball fields be required to do the same upkeep as you expect the residents who use this park to do?

deertracker

Of course he doesn't. He only wants to kick those that are already down. Sad.

Matt Westerhold's picture
Matt Westerhold

You're not the one who brought race up, donutshop guy, but you're just the person who pounced on it in an offensive way. Your comments are bordering on being banned. 

grandmasgirl

"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." Matt, I see nothing offensive in what donutshop guy said. Cole is the one who suggested that because kids are black, they get less than whites. At least that's the way it sounded to me. Also the picture that the SR contributed makes it seem as though the article is about blacks. As far as banning goes, I have read lots more offensive stuff than what donut said.

deertracker

I guess you don't see the white kids in the picture. Stop blaming or projecting your views and opinions on the SR. Cole is right, some of you just don't like what she said.

Matt Westerhold's picture
Matt Westerhold

Here is  what Cole stated in the email to commissioner Farrar: "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. Like it or not that's how it looks and your continued support concretes that position."

It does look like that, doesn't it? 

The photo included with today's story was taken at the park on Friday. The vast majority of the children at the park that day were black. It was simply a statement of fact to include that observation in the article. 

Common Sense

I see that the City just added the skills of Goodwill Industries to their "nuisance lawn project". What a great idea! How about letting community groups "adopt" a park and allow them to care for the ball fields? It could be an organized group or a neighborhood. Perhaps this would also provide "something to do" for that young group that is able to afford gas (smashing mailboxes), paint (spray painting walls that don't need it), and out wandering the Bike Week concert at midnight (despite the fact that they were without adult suprevision and were junior high students).
It would mean the city would have to clear it with the insurance company, but it is worth a try instead of shooting down the idea that some parks have no value. Shame on you, Julie, Nicole, and Jeff for not looking at alternative ways. Didn't we do that with the city greenhouse?

donutshopguy

Matt,

Explain how my comments were offensive. I am interested in knowing your opinion.
Anytime you want to sit down and talk let me know. I'll buy lunch.

Matt Westerhold's picture
Matt Westerhold

Do we have to eat at the donut shop? 

deertracker

No worries. He will make sure the grease is clean!

donutshopguy

Matt,

Nope. You pick the place and the time.

donutshopguy

Deer,

The invitation is open to you also for lunch. You pick the time and place.

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