Oak Park youth baseball leaders make last minute case for diamond at Stevenson

It's baseball vs. soccer at Stevenson as planning wraps up


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By Jean Lotus

Contributing Reporter

After a heads up email from Gary Balling, executive director of the Park District of Oak Park, local baseball stakeholders made their voices heard Wednesday night about plans for the makeover of Stevenson Park.

As the park district held its fourth and final public meeting in a months-long park planning process, members of Oak Park Youth Baseball/Softball made a ninth-inning discovery that park planners want to remove the baseball diamond and backstop completely.

"We lost two ball diamonds already," said Dee Jeffries, president of Oak Park Youth Baseball/Softball. "We lost one at Barrie when they made the [sledding] hill — and then at Taylor Park. Removing the backstop would make this field kind of useless. Losing this field would really hurt our program," she said. The changes slipped past baseball advocates because "we were busy playing baseball," said one coach.

The Stevenson meeting was the final master plan public meeting for the entire Oak Park system upgrade. Over the past several years, 18 parks have begun long-haul renovations based on master plan meetings with stakeholders, employees and the community.

Soccer coaches from Strikers and AYSO got the first crack at the Stevenson Park redo and asked for a large, multi-purpose field, preferably with artificial turf to make spring play less muddy. Parents and neighbors asked that the park design be more accessible and that the playground maintain its current footprint. In addition, neighbors wanted a walking path created around the playing field. Neighbors also requested more welcoming entrances in the southeast and northwest corners of the park. A "green" committee asked that the fewest number of trees — especially memorial trees — be removed or relocated. Baseball representatives at Wednesday's meeting found what looked like a fait accompli and had to scramble to suggest an artificial turf infield and temporary backstop.

Josephine Bellalta, a landscape planner with Altamanu, the park district's consultant, said conflicts arose as many different interests vied for claims on the 3.3-acre space that abuts the Green Line train viaduct.

Even with a larger soccer field, AYSO soccer coach Sergio Firpo said that at 248 feet wide, the Stevenson Park planned field was too small for U14 soccer. Most U12 and older AYSO games are played on 300-foot fields in less land-locked communities.

"We have such a shortage of large field areas in Oak Park," he said.

Jeffries said 1,800 Oak Park children play youth baseball on 140 different teams. Firpo pointed out that AYSO had 3,500 children participate in fall soccer and 650 in the spring. The conflict seems to pit baseball vs. soccer, the coaches said many children participate in both sports.

Peter Traczyk, a District 97 school board member who is also involved with both girls' baseball and Strikers soccer, called the Stevenson redo "a golden opportunity" because the field is lighted. He suggested restoring the diamond with an artificial turf infield and some kind of "seasonal backstop" that could be dismantled. Other baseball supporters at the meeting included Dewitt Kelly of the Mustang League and Phil Hunt from Shetland.

Balling said storage and maintenance might make a seasonal backstop — or a removable net — problematic and expensive, but that he would investigate. Park district officials contend that leaving a permanent backstop at the edge of a soccer field is unacceptably dangerous. Balling seemed receptive to the suggestion of an artificial turf baseball diamond.

Three Altamanu plans were whittled down to two, both with large rectangular playing fields. Plan A — which included an "artificial shade element"— got the most support from youth sports team representatives, but neighbors said they preferred Plan B which includes a peripheral walking path. "This park is not being used to its full potential by the neighborhood," said Maggie Testore, who lives on the 300 block of South Humphrey, and whose children participate in soccer and baseball. Neighbor Kelly Pollock, from the same block, said the park needed better access and remembered carrying her stroller up the stairs to the playground when her children were little. The walking-path option "brings people in of all ages and provides nice circulation. This is our park."

Frank Lipo, president of the Historical Society of Oak Park-River Forest also voted for Plan B, noting the welcoming staircase at the northwest end of the park. The historical society hopes to eventually relocate to the old Pumping Station, which sits at the far west end of the park.

The park district has allocated $300,000 in its 2014 master plan for the first phase of the Stevenson update. Built atop two water reservoirs, Stevenson Park currently has a multipurpose field, a recreation center, a baseball/softball diamond, and a double-playground for ages 2-5 and 5-12. The east side of the park holds a skate park and basketball area. The rec center at 49 Lake is the home of the park district's teen center.

Jeffries thanked Balling for making sure baseball people got to participate on the Stevenson project.

Park Commissioner Christine Graves said that getting input from baseball and soccer communities was critical. "You have to get [baseball and soccer] both in the same room. When they hear each other, that's when they can compromise."

The park board will next discuss the Stevenson plan at the July 14 Committee of the Whole meeting at the Oak Park Conservatory.

Reader Comments

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Lori M  

Posted: June 25th, 2011 2:23 PM

@ Jeff S - I like that Ike idea, and make it a giant, domed stadium so we don't have to keep rescheduling games!


Posted: June 25th, 2011 9:55 AM

Who can scream and whine the loudest, Baseball/Softball or Soccer.

Stevenson Park neighbor  

Posted: June 24th, 2011 4:02 PM

wow, what a poorly-coordinated effort by the Park District and their consultant. After the community meetings and final three options are provided, then, and only then, are AYSO and OPYB/S consulted. This confirms my doubts re. the Park District's ability to truly master plan their parks. AYSO and OPYB/S need to have their own master plan and coordinate better as well.

Jeana Reisig from Oak Park  

Posted: June 24th, 2011 3:31 PM

I think it's a shame that we have to pay good money to Forest Park, Berwyn and Elmwood Park to rent their artificial turf fields for soccer. Their taxes must be really high to have those gorgeous, not-rained-out fields to play on and rent to us.

Jeff Schroeder from Oak Park  

Posted: June 24th, 2011 2:49 PM

You know, if only we could get that IKE capped, we could build a sports mega-structure like they have in the wide-open far suburbs. We could have five or six diamonds, a giant new Tasty-dog for the concessions, etc. And, we wouldn't even have to remove a property from the tax roles. Now, if we just had a billion dollars of OTHER PEOPLES MONEY to spend!

Michael Nevins  

Posted: June 24th, 2011 2:41 PM

I agree with this comment: "John Paul, who coaches baseball, Strikers and AYSO, called for a big-picture perspective....." It appears to me that Stevenson reflects that this PDOP process is too focused on specific parks - rather than overall community needs AS IT RELATES TO SOCCER, BASEBALL, ETC. All parks require neighborhood "playgrounds," but after that we need to consider community needs. The parks do not exist in isolation.

Sergio Firpo from Oak Park  

Posted: June 24th, 2011 11:57 AM

Sorry, I meant to say 2500 players in AYSO. A little under 2000 in the fall and about 650 in the spring. I apologize for the mistake. By the way, this is a change from 375 ten years ago to near 2000 in the fall now.

lives near Stevenson  

Posted: June 24th, 2011 11:09 AM

Those advocating for the baseball diamond should keep in mind that the kids only get to use Stevenson until the adult leagues start up. Then its baseball late and loud. The lights are really important for these leagues - they help them find the coolers.

Keep Ballfield  

Posted: June 24th, 2011 10:25 AM

As a major stakeholder and user of this park, OPYBS should have been involved from day one. If they were, then clearly they dropped the ball (pun intended). A disturbing soccer bias has emerged as an organized special interest who ultilizes mass emails in an attempt to skew survey results. It is appropriate for any board member who has a conflict of interest, visa via active involvement in Oak Park soccer, to remove themselves from all discussions and voting on this issue.


Posted: June 23rd, 2011 8:00 PM

(add'l comment) While I appreciate the request for walking paths, I can't imagine that Stevenson gets all that much walking traffic. It's between a large road, a train track, and next to a large parking lot and grocery store. It's not on the way to anything. (and there is a large, well-maintained track just a few blocks away at Ridgeland). Please, park district officials, reconsider this plan and give us more time to review. We can't lose another baseball field.

OP parent  

Posted: June 23rd, 2011 7:56 PM

I looked at all 3 plans earlier this week and it was not at all obvious to me that they were getting rid of the diamond! My kids play both baseball and soccer, and I'm not at all happy. I voted in good faith for higher taxes for the park district, and what I'm seeing in return is still muddy, drainage-impaired fields - and now removing a playing field?!

Lady Bracknell from Oak Park  

Posted: June 23rd, 2011 5:34 PM

To lose one diamond may be regarded as a misfortune. To lose three looks like carelessness.

Jeff Schroeder from Oak Park   

Posted: June 23rd, 2011 4:56 PM

Please keep in mind also that the Stevenson field has been used primarily by girl's softball, where there is especially a shortage of fields. As it is, many girls' games have to wait for high school games to end, which limits playing time in April and May.

Not enough spots to play baseball  

Posted: June 23rd, 2011 4:37 PM

There are not enough spaces to play baseball in OP as it is and they are going to take away another diamond? What is the Park District thinking? INSANE!

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