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Can old ballpark rise from ruins?

The old ball field is just east of the meticulously groomed Helper City Park. Backers of the project to restore the field say the acreage could be level and green by next spring. There is plenty of volunteer support but the challenge is finding funds for new sod and fencing.

By JOHN SERFUSTINI
Sun Advocate Reporter

There are ten Little League baseball teams in Helper. There is one field in town to play and practice on. Is there an imbalance here?

Sam Chiara thinks so, and he's looking for some help to double the opportunity for kids to get more time at bat and in the field. Chiara, who grew up in Helper, thinks it is possible to restore the old Pony League field east of the Helper City Park to use for practice.

His method of bringing about change differs from an attempt about a decade ago to transform the field into a BMX track for bikes. People just showed up with shovels and dug holes and piled up hills without telling city officials. There are no vestiges remaining of that urban renewal project.

Chiara, an attorney, has made it a point to appear before the city council with a formal presentation. He has spearheaded the formation of Heritage Ballfields, a non-profit corporation intended to raise and invest funds for bringing abandoned and derelict diamonds back to life. The Pony League field will be the first challenge.

Some challenge. Native plants have taken over the acreage and what's not infested with weeds is dry and barren. The old fence is cut in some places, down in others and rusted all over. And do not, under any circumstances, sit or stand on the bleachers.

Nevertheless, it was a baseball field once and could become one again, Chiara says. Thanks to the cooperation of the city council, the land is available and so are water and electricity. "We also have volunteers to install sprinklers and fence," he added.

What's needed is the support of individuals and businesses to purchase equipment or donate specialized labor for the work ahead. The old fences have to be torn down and hauled away. New fencing must be purchased, as must the sprinkler hardware. The field will have to be graded and leveled and the whole five acres or so will have to be planted with sod.

This is expected to cost around $24,000. If the money or in-kind support is there, the work could be completed by this fall, Chiara says. That would mean spring and summer practice in 2011.

A more ambitious second phase would be to get the field ready to host games. That would require $48,500 for seating, scoreboard and scorer's booth, and restrooms.

The first two phases would prepare the field for basic practice and competition. Further down the road there could be improvements to access roads and parking area, a concession stand, PA system and possible a playground for younger children.

Chiara says that completing phase one alone will be enough to give the young players the practice they need. "I have seen three or four teams show up at the same time to practice," he notes, adding that some teams may get only two chances to practice over the whole season.

Practicing at school yards, vacant lots or parks intended for picnics - which the teams now use - is not the same as playing on a real diamond, he explained. The ground is often not flat or level enough to get experience fielding grounders. "Also, with the very young age groups, they have trouble imagining where the bases should be. They have to see the bases," he says.

Heritage Ballfields has set up a special account at Wells Fargo Bank to accept donations. Money can be contributed at any Wells Fargo branch.




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