Youth baseball fields get a boost from grants, municipalities

by John Benson

With spring just around the corner, the itch for baseball is getting stronger. Twinsburg City Council recently added to that excitement by approving a $300,000 expansion at Liberty Park.

The new field, which will be the fourth at Liberty Park, will be paid for using a $130,000 Ohio Department of Natural Resources NatureWorks grant along with an $85,000 donation from the Twinsburg Baseball League and an $85,000 match from the city.

“As many youth sports are experiencing declines in registration, the Twinsburg Baseball League continues to experience growth year after year,” Twinsburg Parks and Recreation Director Derek Schroeder said. “This additional field was already included in the city of Twinsburg master plan for Liberty Park.”

TBL President Rich Swerbinsky said the news is very exciting for the community.

“It marks the culmination of many years of fundraising and TBL coordination with the city, who we have a really good relationship with,” Swerbinsky said. “Most importantly, just the impact it’s going to have on the baseball program, the youth of Twinsburg.

“We’ve seen great growth of the baseball program these last five years in terms of the number of kids that are playing Twinsburg baseball – around 1,200 annually ­– and the need for a field that is going to be smaller with a home run fence. It’ll just have so much impact on the ability to increase kids’ enthusiasm for the game of the baseball by having that cool, kind of mini-signature field right there at Liberty.”

The proposed new field, which will be used by pre-K to fourth grade kids, is tentatively going to be located on the south side of the property in an area where a batting cage exists.

“What’s important is the flexibility the new field will give us,” Swerbinsky said. “We’ve always been kind of field-strapped in the city. Obviously, Glenmeadow and Idlewood parks are used heavily by softball. Other fields in the city are school baseball fields, where we have less control over the condition and the scheduling. So this is a great thing for the community.”

The plan calls for construction to begin in June with a fall completion date.

 “As with all projects, the funding mechanism is of utmost concern to the city,” Schroeder said. “Without the financial help of the Twinsburg Baseball League and Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ NatureWork’s grant, this field would not have been possible. The city is truly thankful to both funding sources.” 

Township field rehab

Work is underway at Twinsburg Heights Community Center. Nonprofit Diamonds in the Rough has agreed to spend $80,000, which will be matched by the Twinsburg Township, to rehab the existing overgrown baseball field.

“The property in question is about five acres off of Harvard Road,” Twinsburg Township Manager Robert Kagler said. “It has a couple of basketball courts, pavilion and an old baseball field on it. The township was approached by Jonah Schultz’s nonprofit last year and entered into an agreement with him by which he would upgrade it to kind of a state-of-the-art new ball field with a whole bunch of improvements.”

Diamonds in the Rough founder and President Schulz said despite being from Chardon, when he was 16 he played on the Twinsburg Tigers travel baseball team.

“I have a great appreciation for the Twinsburg community’s interest, enthusiasm and commitment to the sport,” Schulz said.

The mission of Diamonds in the Rough is to preserve the national pastime by transforming neglected baseball fields into state-of-the-art ballparks. The group partners with local government, businesses and the community to raise money for projects.

“Baseball has been the love of my life,” Schulz said. “Returning to my hometown after a professional stint with the Roswell Invaders in New Mexico, I took a drive over to a local field, where I had played in my first little league all-star game. The field was in shambles, with patches of grass scattered across the infield dirt and fences rusting.”

He realized in his hometown, as well as in other communities, there were few decent places for youths to play ball.

“The Twinsburg Heights neighborhood lines up perfectly with everything we want to accomplish,” Schulz said. “The neighborhood is historically African American and low income. This demographic has the least access to the game of baseball and as a result, the lowest participation. However, this community has a rich history rooted in baseball and community leagues. With the renovation of this field, we look to bring baseball back to Twinsburg Heights.” 

Scheduled to be completed by June 1, the project includes a refinished and expanded infield surface, new fencing, dugouts, backstop, scoreboard and other amenities. 

“The township has always had on the long-term radar screen improvements to that property and improvements to the basketball courts, baseball field and pavilion, but the timing of what’s being done now can be credited to Jonah’s initiative,” Kagler said. “The board of trustees is excited about the opportunity to bring something forward sooner and at a lesser cost than would have otherwise been possible.”

Featured image photo caption: The baseball field at Twinsburg Heights Community Center is getting a face lift this spring thanks in part to Diamonds in the Rough Inc., a nonprofit group in Chardon founded by Jonah Schultz.