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

deertracker

I respectfully decline. I can buy my own lunch! I highly doubt we have much or anything in common! You are too self righteous and judgmental and that is not who I am! Thanks but NO THANKS!

donutshopguy

deer,

Who is self righteous and judgmental? Look at yourself first before labeling others. I am at least willing to discuss different views and opinions. Guess you are not.

AEversole

Moderators have removed this comment because it contained Profane, obscene, sexual or derogatory language.

sandtown born a...

Moderators have removed this comment because it contained Off-topic comments.

donutshopguy

AEversole,

I talked about the surplus that is in the bank from the sale of the Radisson? You have me confused with someone else.

Opinionated yes, ignorant and stupid is still up in the air. Time will tell.

starryeyes83

Why in the hell don't you all get toether with some kids who whine "there's nothing to do " and put them to WORK cleaning this up so they can be rewarded for the satisfaction that they now have a place to play. Is it that hard? Or are the kids and the parents that lazy that they can't help themselves for a change. Some kids don't mind helping or afraid of hard work.

We had to , why can't the newer generation?

P.S.

And how about a few community gardens up there in Erie County? Teach the kids how to grow their own food, instead of eating the junk food.

sandtown born a...

If the kids fixed it up just maybe they wouldn't trash it so fast

starryeyes83

Agreed.

donutshopguy

Matt,

Having the same problem with Jim Gunner, Superintendent of Perkins Schools, as I am with you. I have offered you both an opportunity to meet and discuss issues. Mr. Gunner is ignoring me. Are you?

Matt Westerhold

Just give me a call at 419-609-5866 and we can arrange to have lunch. 

donutshopguy

Be in touch shortly.

Common Sense

Try the board meetings. Call the BOE and get yourself on the agenda. Stand up and ask your questions. Your opinion is important, but you must be willing to look at both sides of the issue. It seems like you pretty much come out swinging with your idea and constantly put down the ideas that do not agree with you.
Give the above-mentioned suggestion a try. Since you are a donutshopguy, perhaps you will want to brush up on school legislation so that you will be more informed before the meeting.

Justme...

Andy I'm pretty sure you do not really mean to say that "The percentage of blacks playing on Major League teams peaked to about 27 percent in 1975." What you mean to say is "27% of major league teams were made up of blacks in 1975" BIG difference. Sorry, I'm stats nazi.

Wald

I've been reading Commissioner Smith's Facebook page, and it seems that the field was scheduled for maintenance after higher-priority projects, so I wonder at the Register's agenda with these stories. I mean, the condition of this field really merits 3-4 stories/op-Ed pieces? Really? Also, this article states "Tim Schwanger, a city resident advocating for shoreline and park preservation". Isn't he the one who always stonewalls shoreline development? Smith's Facebook page predicted the Register would champion Schwanger, and it looks like he was right.

Matt Westerhold

It might be that the best time for city workers to spend an hour or so dragging a baseball field is at the start of summer when children are out of school, during baseball season. The suggestion it was scheduled to be done at a later date after other 'higher-priority projects' are addressed first and manpower allows is revisionist. It'd been a couple years since the field's been dragged. Even if it were accurate to say it was scheduled to be done at a later date that would represent bad planning. Cleaning up that field was never a budgetary issue; it was a juvenile power play that didn't work out. As far as your suggestion that there have been too many stories on this topic, you're still reading them so you must have some interest. I'd venture to guess the children who use the ball park, and their families, aren't thinking there's been too much coverage. At least the field was cleaned up despite the evolving excuses now being crafted by commissioners who didn't want to get it done.

Wald

"As far as your suggestion that there have been too many stories on this topic, you're still reading them so you must have some interest". My only interest is to see what kind of fresh spin you could possibly put on this dead horse.

T. A. Schwanger

###

@ Wald

I grew up in the Huron Park area playing baseball at this field. It saddens me to see the shape it is in.

The problem with Smith's Facebook page is he, as he has accused the Register, is only telling what his supporters want to here.

The field was not schedules for dragging or repairing. In fact it was off the City Manager's radar.

The honest and complete story on the field is, when the Huron Park Splash pad was being planned, an order was given to "dismantle the ball-field at Huron Park". City crews began to dismantle the wrong ball-field---was supposed to be the field at the corner of East Madison and Warren Street. They never put the subject field back together again.

I spoke to the coach of one of the teams. She is excited and willing to lend a hand as is the team.

As a community activist, I have contacted Team Depot to see if they would be interested in taking on the repair and painting of the fencing as one of their projects. We are hoping to see Commissioner Smith (maybe he will donate the paint and equipment) and his Facebook supporters, along with community members (you to Waldo) lend a helping had. That is if Smith doesn't try to sabotage the effort.

bucsfan98

mr t.a.schwanger I called the other day and left a message for ms ard because the SHS class or 98 would like to help fix it up to

T. A. Schwanger

###

Bucsfan98

Thank you. The more the merrier. Team Home Depot is 99.9% sure they are doing the project. They are in the process of surveying what they need for repairs to the fence.

One item we are talking about is replacing home plate (there isn't one) and checking to see if the other basis still have anchors in the ground.

As soon as we have a start date for Team Depot ( next two weeks) we will post it on line at our Rejuvenate Sandusky Facebook page or you can contact me a waterfrontwatch@aol.com

Man of the Republic

This seems more like a job for private citizens... If people are really worried about this, start up a fund, get permission from the city, get a group together, and go down there and give the park some TLC. That would make a good story, IMHO. That shouldn't be too difficult of project.

bucsfan98

the class of 98 from shs has called and waiting to hear back

Matt Easterhold

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

Woody Hayes

Here is a novel ideal, a half hour before the first game starts, both teams take buckets and walk the field and pick up rocks. Teams that play the last game does the same. Worked pretty good for years in Gibsonburg. Parents made a schedule at the beginning of the year to mow and drag the field. Didn't have to rely on city officals and didn't have to take "area's greatest paper's" editor out to lunch.

T. A. Schwanger

###

Woody

The issue is not just the condition of the field Per Se. My above comments describe in detail the issue of the fence.

Woody Hayes

TA,
Back in the old days, played on a lot of fields with no fences. Just saying.

pavedparadise

Understand about your fence situation. However, in this case there is a fence and it should be repaired and maintained by the City as any other park. I remember when the players picked up stones and rocks, but they never dragged the field. This park does not need to equal Dorn Park but should be in safe usable condition.

bucsfan98

enough is enough I have called the city to see if the SHS class of 98 can fix up the park, I am waiting for an answer from city manager ard ,unlike the rest of you we the class of 98 want to give back to the city we grew up in and the field we once played on stop the belly aching and get out and do something residents of sandusky

sandtown born a...

Don't hold your breath waiting for volunteers

T. A. Schwanger

###

Bucsfan98

Thank you. The more the merrier. Team Home Depot is 99.9% sure they are doing the project. They are in the process of surveying what they need for repairs to the fence.

One item we are talking about is replacing home plate (there isn't one) and checking to see if the other basis still have anchors in the ground.

As soon as we have a start date for Team Depot ( next two weeks) we will post it on line at our Rejuvenate Sandusky Facebook page or you can contact me a waterfrontwatch@aol.com

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