Ballplayers want place to play
By Darren Lum
There’s not much to the Haliburton ball diamond.
Except for the chain fence backstop, a couple of team benches, a pair of bleachers on opposing sides, and a set of towering light stands (some leaning off kilter), it’s a virtual sandlot with its best days behind it. However, for the children and youth who come out every Tuesday night, rain or shine, this is the place where they learn not only to play softball, but also to fail and to overcome. This is where they get to round the bases or make the run saving catch at the fence while parents and other children cheer.
Mandy Swinson, one of the parents who facilitates the weekly pickup night, is concerned over the possibility that Dysart could remove the ball diamond from town.
The thought of this night coming to an end is disheartening to her and parent and facilitator Kim Henry.
Henry’s long-time partner Jimmy O’Neill, who died last year to cancer, started this night after a contingent of children and youth came to him more than three years ago. O’Neill was a passionate baseball fan and could never say no to children. He promised them he would be there for them.
Henry and Swinson want to carry on this promise for them and him.
Although there has been an ongoing discussion about the future of the property, Dysart Reeve Murray Fearrey said a decision regarding the baseball diamond in town hasn’t been made, but the preference is for a town location such as Glebe Park.
Swinson supports a ball park at Glebe Park. She supports it because of its seclusion, within walking and biking distances for the children and youth.
She and Hardy are concerned if council removes the current diamond and if plans for construction of a new diamond are not initiated this autumn then there won’t be a place for the children to play by spring.
Using West Guilford as the only ball diamond in Dysart would hinder children, she adds.
Dysart’s director of planning and development Pat Martin said moving the diamond isn’t about replacing it with something different, as much as the diamond just doesn’t fulfill “regulation size” dimensions as outlined by Softball Canada. She said its proximity to the roadway is also a concern, as home runs that clear the perimeter netting above the outfield fence land in the roadway.
The township’s director of parks and recreation Ray Miscio said regulations are different depending on the game.
Softball Canada’s website said for slo-pitch, a ball diamond from the plate to between the foul poles must measure 68.2 metres (225 feet) for females, 83.3 metres (275 feet) for co-ed and 83.3 metres (275 feet) male. The Haliburton ball diamond is only slightly larger than the female slo-pitch playing area, as indicated by a sign with 228 feet at the centrefield fence. Miscio did not respond if regulations apply to pickup games.
The free pickup league is important to the children, youth and adults alike, Swinson said.
“This is my favourite night of the week. So, I think honestly, if it goes I will be really upset for the simple fact I look forward to these kids. Just to see a kid hit the ball and see a smile on their face [makes my day],” she said.
Even before the snow is off the diamond children are asking her if they can play, Swinson said.
The season starts early-April and ends at the end of September.
As far as numbers go, it can vary from season to season and night to night, which is the nature of a pickup night, she adds.
“When it’s just a pickup league you don’t know what you’re going to have, but it’s the convenience of it,” she said. “A lot of these kids ride their bikes, walk. Being in town, the kids just about anywhere can come and play. Parents don’t have to worry about getting them there. They can ride their bikes and they see kids playing they can just join in.”
She adds during the school year there are as many as 80 players who come out from after school to until 10 p.m. Between May and the beginning of July is when pickup is the busiest.
Participants are from four to 19 and when numbers require it are divided into three age groups four to nine, 10 to 14 and 14 and up. Organized leagues cost money and require more of a commitment, which is a contrast to the free pickup night that just allows an informal recreation opportunity that is lacking for children and youth, Swinson said.
“This gives them somewhere to come and hang out and play baseball where there is nowhere else in town for this to happen,” she said.
Some of the teens help adults run the night, acquiring volunteer hours essential to high school student graduation. The parents said the teens love doing it.
Haliburton Highlands Secondary School recent graduate Jordan Nimigon, 18, didn’t even know how to play baseball before he started playing one pickup night three years ago.
Now that he’s older, he appreciates being a mentor to the younger players.
“It makes them feel a lot better being able to hang out with us older kids. It feels good on us, showing them how to play baseball too so when they get older they can carry on too,” he said.
Except for West Guilford, there isn’t an option for youth between 14 and 18 who want to play any kind of baseball in Haliburton.
Jim and Marilyn Frost have lived next to the ball diamond for 18 years and corroborate Swinson’s claim that the diamond is a well used facility.
“We’re here 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Jim Frost said. “We see who comes and goes.”
It’s the location, Frost said, that makes it popular. He contends a location out of town won’t get the same usage.
He challenges council to come out and see for themselves if the diamond’s removal would affect anyone.
Up to four days a week, the diamond is being used, he said.
Every Monday, Swinson said, the Haliburton Red Wolves Special Olympic baseball team comes out.
“You get rid of this diamond and there is no diamond next year. Where do they go? Where do they play?” she said. “It’s not just us.”
From the first of June until the end of August, the Haliburton Red Wolves play from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., said their coach John Kellett.
“The current location is ideal for most of our athletes because they live within walking distance. As well, the ball diamond is safe for our special needs athletes because it’s level and has a proper playing field. A different location too far from town would mean that some athletes would not be able to participate,” he wrote in an email. There are 14 athletes on the team who are often joined by other non-team members. They average 20 players a week, but popularity grows.
“The numbers are growing each year as we continue to create interest in the community of special needs children and adults to come out to play. Some have been reluctant to participate because they haven’t thought that they could actually do it. In some cases it has taken a couple of years of potential players to first come and watch, then cheer on their friends, then begin to play,” he said.
Kellett said the team has played at the Haliburton location for close to 10 years. They have tried other locations when Haliburton’s wasn’t available, but returned for its good condition and lack of bugs.
Sometimes passersby will join in the fun. This is part of the beauty of the a ball diamond in town. It just gives everybody a chance to play, Swinson said.