By CHRIS LARICK
For the Star Beacon
It is one thing to have dreams of baseball fields so you can even have a Field of Dreams.
But dreams alone don’t get baseball fields built. Fields are built on solid plans, on the backs of strong, dedicated men, on donations of time and funds by generous people.
So it was with the revamped baseball/softball park at Geneva’s Kiwanis Park, which was rededicated Saturday.
The newly revitalized field at that hidden treasure on Route 84 was a result of a collaboration between two groups that found they needed each other.
The Kiwanis Club of Geneva discovered that its ball field, which had been used by many teams for more than 50 years, was in dire need of improvements, improvements it lacked the funds and manpower to accomplish.
“The field’s condition had gone downhill a little in recent years,” Kiwanis Club Park Committee Chairman Larry Holcomb said. “Drainage was a problem and there wasn’t enough distance between home plate and the backstop. We also didn’t have enough fence down the left-field line.”
The United Little League (consisting of Little League teams from the communities of Geneva, Austinburg and Cork), meanwhile, found itself in desperate need of a field to play on.
“At one time, there were three senior and junior fields United Little League played on,” ULL representative Joe Cooper said. “The school system had to remove the baseball fields at Geneva Middle School and Austinburg Elementary School, and the junior/senior baseball field in Harpersfield is now being used by another youth baseball league.
“It became hard to find game or practice time for the junior and senior boys. The school allowed the league to use its new field after the high school season was over, but the first part of the season was spent traveling to other communities because the high school season and the Little League season overlapped.”
To everyone involved’s good fortune, Kiwanis Club and the United Little League found each other. That was the easy part.
In order to adapt the existing field to its needs, United Little League poured a great deal of work and money into improving the field.
“United Little League partnered with the Geneva Schools, who allowed Little League to remove the backstop and fencing from the old Austinburg Field and replace it at Kiwanis Park,” Cooper said. “This was a large project. Thomas Fence provided discounted materials and advice, for which we would like to thank them.”
The ULL also received help from Grimmet Construction, Bogue Construction, Tom Hackett and Tom Spoor, who chipped in with their time and use of their equipment.
Geneva High School students Derek Kirby, Steven Lamarsh and Jeff Varga served their senior community service time volunteering at the field. Boy Scout Troop 52 from Saybrook, managed by scout member Tyler Jones, contributed a brand-new dugout project.
Several Kiwanis Club members, especially Tom Norman, Mike Shupska, Russ Doering and Holcomb, also provided needed materials, labor and advice. Norman and Ted Dennison donated the use of their backhoes. Dan Phillips and Holcomb, who along with Cooper labored tirelessly on the project, worked on it every night for a week, cutting down the hill behind home plate and down the third-base line. Doering and Holcomb helped place 18 cement blocks, each of them weighing about 3,000 pounds, behind the backstop to keep the hill from collapsing.
Miguel Lopez, one the ULL members, spent endless hours working at the field. And of course, the wives and families contributed by allowing all of those individuals the time to work on the project.
“We are sincerely appreciative for all of those efforts,” Cooper said.
Some people think Geneva’s Kiwanis Park is owned and run by the city of Geneva. That is not true. A late Kiwanis member, Lee Woodworth, and his wife Dorothy donated the land that became the park to the Geneva Kiwanis Club in 1960. Since then, Kiwanis Club has owned and operated the park.
For many years, the city of Geneva leased the ball field from Kiwanis for a nominal fee of $1 a year. In return for the use of the field, the city agreed to maintain the ball park and parking lot.
In 2011, it was discovered that the lease had lapsed without the parties agreeing to a new one. Negotiations for a new lease proved fruitless and the Kiwanis Club decided it would “go it alone” in operating the entire park, including the ball field.
About the same time, Little League found itself without a field to play on.
The two groups found common interests and enjoy a happy relationship.
Finding money to operate Kiwanis Park has always been a problem. Yes, the club puts in many voluntary hours of labor, but there are some things work alone cannot do, that require money.
One of the ways the club intends to fund the park in the future is by selling concessions at the ball games at the park. It would also like to initiate a Friends of Kiwanis Park group to help in any way it can.
“It should be known that all proceeds raised by those concessions will go right back into maintaining and improving the park,” Holcomb said.
To help raise money, money that will be put back into improvements to the field, Kiwanis and United Little League are beginning a men’s softball league, starting on June 17 on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. The groups are also exploring local interest in women’s fast pitch, slowpitch and coed leagues. For information, contact Eric Bowser at (440) 413-5319. Cost is $450 per team
Tournaments will be a highlighted feature of the field. The first will be held in conjunction with Eaglefest on June 21 and 22. That entry fee will be $175. Again, contact Bowser at 413-5319 to get a team registered.
Larick, a retired Star Beacon sports writer, is a freelance writer from Geneva.