Janesville74.4°

Fields of dreams: Youth baseball announces expansion plans

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GINA R. HEINE
April 28, 2008
— Janesville Youth Baseball plans to raise $2.5 million to add four lighted baseball fields and four lighted softball fields to the Youth Sports Complex on the city’s east side.

Since the 1950s, youth baseball has played games at Youth Baseball Park on Woodman Road just west of Milton Avenue. The organization built two fields at the east side sports complex in recent years and has played some games there.


“The facility we have now has really served us well over the last 50 years, but we’ve maximized what we can do,” board member Duffy Dillon said of the Woodman Road site. “We can’t grow the program beyond what it is.”


The expansion could double the number of youth participants, Dillon said.


Janesville Youth Baseball serves more than 500 kids ages 9 to 15, but the board would like to add 8-year-olds and possibly 7-year-olds and start a youth softball program. The organization would be renamed Janesville Youth Baseball and Softball Association.


In 1996, the city created the Youth Sports Complex, which has two baseball fields on 80 acres on the southeast corner of Ruger Avenue and Wuthering Hills Drive. The complex also features football and soccer fields.


The proposed project includes:


-- Building two Babe Ruth (high school-size) baseball fields, two Little League-size baseball fields and four softball/flex fields.


-- Building two shelters with concession stands, restrooms and storage. The city would cover part of the shelter expense related to the bathrooms, which will be for public use.


-- Renovating one or more existing farm buildings for storage.


-- Covering the cost of all accessories associated with the fields, including concrete plazas, fencing, dugouts, signs, scoreboards, bleachers, field lighting and irrigation.


The city would be responsible for infrastructure costs of about $1.3 million.


The organization plans to raise the money this year, start construction in spring 2009 and have the fields ready for play in 2010.


“We’re optimistic that we’ve lined up some significant donations already,” Dillon said.


The organization plans to sell the 6.8 acres that contain the existing Youth Baseball Park and plow the proceeds into the project. The property is appraised at more than $600,000.


“Whatever it sells for, all that money will go to pay for this,” Dillon said.


The sale also would put the Youth Baseball Park land on the city’s tax roll.


The group is looking for field sponsors, and the city will allow naming rights for each field and the entire facility, Dillon said.


Dave and Steve Ellis, longtime leaders of the baseball program, said a number of factors went into the decision to expand. They include:


-- A “tremendous” need for a softball program in Janesville. The move would allow the creation of a girls softball league for up to 500 girls ages 9 to 15.


-- Full rosters, including three kids on a waiting list for the Babe Ruth league this year.


Rosters this year are the most full they’ve been in years, the Ellis brothers said.


-- The need for lights. The organization tried for years to get permission to put lights at its current fields, but neighbors fought the move.


“We will never have lights here, and it’s a big issue for us,” Steve said of the Woodman Road site. “At some point with a nice facility like we want to build, we’d like to have tournaments. It allows us to start games a little later for the older kids so that we have a bigger pool of coaches, and it’s more parent friendly … so lights are a factor in our wanting to do this.”


Steve said the organization has the city’s blessing for lights at the new site.


-- The Woodman Road fields need major work, Dillon said.


“Some people would say, ‘Well, there’s not a need for this,’” he said. “We have a responsibility to maintain this facility and look forward 10, 20, 30 years and make sure that our facilities are keeping up.”


But the real eye-opener was last summer when the organization hosted a state tournament but was forced to move some games to Waunakee because rain left the fields unplayable, he said.


“That was embarrassing, and it’s an eye-opener,” Dillon said. “We looked at it, and it would cost a lot of money to renovate the fields.”


Youth baseball leaders also looked at the continued complications and difficulties of having fields at two different sites.


“The fact is, it’s harder to maintain two separate facilities than it is to have everything in one spot,” Dillon said.


-- The sports complex is on the bike trail, so kids will be able to bike to the facility. The complex also is more visible and easier to access for people visiting from out of the city.


“I think the (city) administration deserves a lot of credit for originally having the vision for what the sports complex could become,” Dillon said.


“I think this project is going to be the final piece of turning the sports complex into what the administration dreamed it could be … and it will have significant economic benefits for the city that go beyond just the development of a park.”



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