Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 22, 2013

GT parks board calms worries about American Legion junior baseball

BY MICHAEL WALTON mwalton@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — American Legion junior baseball fans rallied for their team over worries that a new Grand Traverse County field rental policy could hamper the decades-old program.

Members of the county’s Parks and Recreation Commission eventually addressed most American Legion supporters’ concerns during a lengthy and convoluted conversation at a parks board meeting last week. American Legion officials said everything seems in order to continue the popular baseball program next summer.

“Overall, we’re OK with it,” American Legion junior baseball field director Rick Fowler said of the new policy. “They’re trying to do their job and we are trying to do ours.”

Parks and Recreation Director Jason Jones said several other organizations asked about renting the Grand Traverse County Civic Center fields -- the longtime home of the American Legion youth program and Grand Traverse YMCA adult softball leagues -- for weekend softball tournaments next summer.

The increased rental interest prompted Jones to propose a policy that would allow groups to reserve Civic Center fields for the upcoming year on a “first-come, first-served basis” starting in October, the proposed policy states. Reservations would require a 25-percent non-refundable deposit.

American Legion supporters, including several parks board members, said they worried other groups would reserve field space before the American Legion and the YMCA could submit rental applications.

Fowler said some American Legion officials originally were skeptical of the rental policy in light of past dealings with the county.

The county commission in 2010 voted to run its own baseball program after problems with American Legion’s baseball operations the previous year and a push by the county’s parks board and director to manage programs instead of just managing parks. The county commission then asked the American Legion to resume youth baseball at the Civic Center one year later.

Jones said the policy represents an attempt to accommodate more groups interested in renting the Civic Center fields and has nothing to do with American Legion or the YMCA.

“The reason I’m asking this to move forward is to give a specific date in which we will consider reservations for the following calendar year in order for us to properly do business and in order for us to increase the number of rentals for our fields,” Jones said during the meeting. “Certainly not to slight American Legion or our current user groups.”

Parks board members voted to approve Jones’ policy with a few key changes, including pushing the reservation start date back to Nov. 1 this year. Board members also said reservation requests from longtime field users like the American Legion and YMCA will be granted as long as they are received within a reasonable time of the policy date.

About 500 youths played American Legion baseball last year, Fowler said. That number is expected to increase by about 100 with the creation of an 18 and under league this summer.

Fowler said American Legion officials will put in a blanket request for their reservations needs by Nov. 1 and then finalize the details as the summer nears.

“We hope to be doing this for another 68 years,” Fowler said.