Softball field has girls crying foul

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:16

    Warwick-Ashley Ballard and Ellen Mackey love softball. They love to play it, watch it, and teach it to the younger girls coming up. The Warwick High School students play for their school as well as a travel team, whose competition is definitely up a notch from the usual Little League game. These young women are used to fierce competition. This night, it was their emotions that were fierce, as they fought for the right to keep the only field in town devoted to softball just that way. "I have something to say about taking the softball field," said Ballard, who addressed the Village Board Monday night, her voice cracking as she tried to compose herself. "It's not right that we have to share it." What Ballard was talking about was a request from Warwick travel baseball teams to share the girls' softball field in Memorial Park for their travel season, which stretches from June through October. The request originally came last spring when the teams were looking for a home. Their dilemma n the official dimensions of the travel field are 70 feet between bases and 50 feet to the pitcher's mound. The girls' softball field, according to Warwick Little League board member Barry Cheney, has dimensions of 60 feet and 40 feet respectively. In order to use the field in regulation games, the travel teams have to move the bases further out by 10 feet and plop down a mound. Having to allow 10 extra feet for overruns, the infield would now go into the outfield. The large field out at the Town Park on Union Corner Road is larger than the travel teams need, with bases at a distance of 90 feet and the mound at 60. Having just replaced the infield with new grass, they can't move the bases in without ruining the new infield grass. Using the standard boys' field would involve moving the bases as well as the permanent mound. "The Little League is concerned with safety first," Cheney said. Although the travel teams would patch the holes from which the bases are moved, there is still a danger that the hole would not be filled solidly. In addition, a sprinkler system sits just on the outfield grass. With the bases now moving back on the edge of the outfield, the sprinklers could be damaged or cause an injury. Disagreement comes from John Peruso, a former board member of the Little League who has a travel team here in Warwick. "I went out and measured the distances myself," said Peruso. "There is 20 feet of clay past the base. We would move the base 10 feet and still have room for overrun. And I didn't see any sprinklers in the way. All players run around in the outfield and no one has been hurt by the sprinklers." Peruso said the travel teams had been using the men's softball field all spring. They filled the holes after each game and there were never any injuries. The distance down the right field line is an issue too, according to Cheney. They are marked as 200 feet but Cheney said they are more like 180 or 185 feet. "The kids who play in travel use double barrel bats, the same size as the older kids use," Cheney said. "They can hit it out of the park easily." Adjacent to the softball field is the minor league field, where the balls will land. Again, Peruso doesn't see it that way. "These are 10, 11 year-old kids. They're not big enough or strong enough to hit the ball out of the park." The travel teams used the field for games in the past. They moved the bases about six feet, Cheney said, but it was an experiment. This year, the Little League board wanted to find a field that truly fits the travel dimensions, not rework one of the others. "The bottom line is the Little League wants to work and help these teams get their own field," Cheney commented. There was talk in the spring of renovating the field at Stanley-Deming Park. Mayor Michael Newhard said the village would be willing to work with the group, just as it has with the Little League and the football league. "The teams felt it was too expensive, having to buy fencing, build dugouts and fix up the diamond," Newhard said. "The Village is willing to develop that as a flexible field with a partnership and some sweat equity from the travel league." Peruso is willing to do that too. He said that the issue of Stanley-Deming Park was dropped by the village, not by the teams. "We approached the village about Stanley-Deming. There was no follow up. The board was supposed to get back to us but no one did," Peruso added. "We had the money. We couldn't do it all at once. It's hand-in-hand work. We would work with the village and do our share, just like the other leagues do. We don't expect the village to do it all." The travel field won't be the softball field in Memorial Park. The Village Board listened to the young women make their case and, although there was a lengthy discussion, in the end voted to allow the travel teams to use the field but not to modify it. The girls were happy. "I think we had an impact," Ballard said. Peruso believes the village made a mistake. "I think this board made a mistake," he said. "They went ahead and made a decision without all the facts." He said he would have been there to offer his side of the story, but he did not know there was going to be a discussion at the Village Board meeting Monday. Sue Pascal, a softball coach who has deep roots to the Warwick Little League and the softball program, was pleased, too. "We have put so much into these fields," said Pascal. "We're out there taking care of them, making them some of the best in all of Orange County. They can use the field. We have no problem with that. Just don't dig holes in it. These girls have worked hard for this field. They deserve it." "We're not trying to take anything away from anyone," said Peruso. "We would use the field when it is free, just like we did in the spring with the men's field. Boys field, girls field. It doesn't matter. We'll play in Newburgh. We just want to have an occasional home game."