By DAVE BARTLETT
In response to the Keizertimes article dated February 22, “Big concerns about little league.”
My name is Dave Bartlett and I have been involved with my sons playing Little League baseball and Keizer Youth Sports Association (KYSA) baseball since 2000. Currently two of my boys are playing for KYSA. I have been a part of the great tradition of Keizer Little League as a player years ago as well as a coach for Little League and KYSA. I, too, have concerns about the Little League Park, not the “Little League” as the title of the story mentions. I would like to respectfully clear up some misconceptions that have been quoted in recent articles about the park being solely taken care of by volunteers.
One quote states in the article that “until five years ago there was no need for help since it was all handled by volunteers.” I’m not sure when the last time that gentleman was involved with the Little League fields but his statement is lacking a few facts that I’m assuming he’s just simply unaware of.
In 1999, a retired Mr. Gary Messing was asked by the then-Keizer Little League board field director to work a few hours a week down at the park because he was unable to get enough Little League parents to come down to the fields and help keep up with things. In talking with Mr. Messing, he started out down there a few hours a week until he was working almost 40 hours a week as volunteerism continued to wane. Remember, this is an outdoor city park/facility with ball fields and the grounds need to be kept up almost year round not just three months out of the year during ball season as most people think. Much of the maintenance to the facility for the last 15 years, especially during the off season, has come from an employee or employees of Keizer Little League or KYSA alongside whomever has been the field director and their countless hours of dedication, but not “100 percent handled by volunteers” as was also stated. Myself, I have been a volunteer at the park since 2001, working on the fields with many other hard working volunteers, coaching with, and against some of the greatest coaches I know, helping with concessions and doing all those things Little League parents should be doing.
In 2008 I was asked to work as a part-time employee of the Little League fields with Mr. Messing and the field director. In 2006 Gary was in need of cutting his hours back, so since 2008 between Gary and I, we have worked 30 paid hours per week or more, plus volunteer hours, 9-10 months out of the year trying to keep the place in good shape with what equipment and man power that has been provided. We take pride in our work and have a sense of ownership and responsibility for that place. It’s not perfect or pristine and other than some major improvements that are needed, we think it looks great! In fact we have received many compliments about the facility, especially from teams from outside of the city who come in frequently for tournaments on the weekends.
I’m not writing this to say there are no volunteers because there are. We have had great turnouts in recent years for field days even when the rain has been pouring down on people. Parents still smiling with hot chocolate in hand and kids running everywhere in anticipation of the coming season. I am writing this to let some know that volunteerism isn’t as it once was when the park was new and fresh and exciting. The park is no longer 10 years old, it’s over 30 years old, and my concern is, why wasn’t there a plan in place years ago to help keep up the facility in the later stages of its life when retaining walls with wooden railroad ties would rot and need replaced or when the four foot homerun fences get ruined because everyone climbs over them or handicap accessibility needed to happen because of the mostly gravel walkways around the entire park which makes most fields inaccessible for anyone with a disability or any of the other major projects that surely had to be foreseen?
I’m sure the thought was that the parents would get it done for their children and I completely agree that was probably at least the hope, but the fact of the matter is that that hasn’t been able to be accomplished and there has had to be “help” out there getting things done for almost 15 years, not just since five years ago as one statement indicates. Both organizations have faithfully been able to come up with finances to simply maintain the softball and baseball fields for the most part, but any big projects that cost thousands of dollars have been few and far between. In my opinion, without any “help” that park would be in really bad shape.
Being a parent and coach and being involved with countless families for over a decade now, I know for sure that all those families have had great intentions and many have worked extremely hard on those fields with “pride and volunteerism” to get them ready for the kids, so I get it. But there’s more than just ball fields down there to keep up for three months out of the entire year. There’s more than mowing Field 5 and throwing some dirt down on low spots on the infield and building up a mound. There’s more than cutting off and repairing the lip on Field 2 so the softball girls don’t break an ankle. There simply isn’t the time in these families taxed schedules that there once was and that’s just a fact of life these days in many circumstances, not just the Little League fields. My wife is a board member at a local neighborhood swimming pool and the feeling is mutual even there. People simply don’t have the time they did 20-plus years ago.
The Keizer Little League Park is a park like none other in our community and probably our region and we are certainly blessed to have it. It’s unique and hence the issue of the complications of maintaining the facility. Most other organizations just use elementary school fields at minimal cost. Parents and coaches don’t have to maintain them much and only during the season and they are aweful to play and practice on. That’s not what we want at our ball park. We want things to look sharp and represent the city of Keizer and the class act that it is.
I understand that the $500,000 is a steep price and I’m not advocating for that, that is not my intention of this column. My intention is to let the community know that yes, volunteers have been helping out there but a lot of work has also been done by some hard working employees of the organizations that have run the facility for the last 15 years whether it has been KLL or KYSA. The two organizations are now working together and asking for a hand. What I have been observing over the last 10 years through all of this is that volunteerism as it was once known, simply isn’t available today. I think that maybe, just maybe the city as a whole can lend a helping hand with ideas whether through connections, consultation, counsel, donations or even physical action or finances.
While people have come and gone, Gary Messing and I have been working our hind ends off for years down there to keep that place in the best shape possible for those kids and their families to enjoy and we are proud of that fact and someone dares to say, “there was no need for help until five years ago?” Mr. Messing and I certainly take offense to that. I think there is a better solution than “past volunteers” lecturing the current volunteers on the KYSA and KLL boards who are putting in “thousands of hours” as well, about how they walked barefooted 18 miles to school in three feet of snow uphill both ways back in the day, right? Or the meaningless banter that has been going on back and forth between adults who don’t even play down there, their children do. Come on people, this kind of verbiage and naivety just isn’t going to get it done.
In 1983 I played on a McNary baseball team that when things didn’t seem fair, our Keizer community pulled funding together literally overnight to fly our entire team down to Klamath Falls, Oregon to play in a state championship game the day after graduation. So I get it, I’ve seen it, I’ve been a part of it, but times are different and that needs to be considered not looked down upon.
(Dave Bartlett lives in Keizer.)