By Stew Slater
It was lucky someone knew where to find a tape measure nearby. Because no one in the small group of people, strolling around the grounds of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in April, 2012, actually believed it would have been feasible to construct a new ball diamond on that space.
Once the measurements were actually taken, however, it became clear a diamond — with dimensions suitable for both youth baseball and adult slow pitch — could actually be built on the piece of land between the existing limestone Museum building, and the facility’s showcase Cement Plant field.
“I can’t really pinpoint whether it was the Town coming to us, or us going to the Town,” admitted Hall of Fame Director of Operations Scott Crawford. He added, however, that the topic of adding an additional diamond on the site, for use by the town’s Minor Ball and slow pitch organizations, had been on and off the front burner — both at the Town and at the Hall — for years.
Now, the new diamond — along with an innovative agreement that will see the Hall of Fame stepping outside its Church Street property to take over maintenance of Minor Ball and the historic Teddy’s Field — is on the way to becoming a reality. Although final details have yet to be ironed out (“it’s in the hands of the lawyers,” was the comment from one of the key negotiators), Town Councillors approved in principal the finalization of the deal at a Special Meeting Tuesday, Oct. 2.
“It has been a tough go, but we are getting it done,” commented Mayor Steve Grose, after councillors unanimously granted authorization to Grose and CAO Kevin McLlwain to pursue those final details.
The mayor was referring to Council’s commitment to replace a ball diamond lost to the construction of Little Falls Public School — on land supplied by the town. The original plan was to purchase land from the developer of Thames Crest Farms on James Street North. But, after months of talks with the Hall of Fame, Grose said it became clear the costs the Town faced for that proposal would outstrip what it will take to join with the Hall of Fame in the construction of a fourth diamond on the Church Street site.
Councillor Lynn Hainer, one of Council’s representatives on the Hall of Fame board of directors, noted at the Oct. 2 meeting that the new diamond will be given the name King Field. That was the name originally given to the diamond on the Little Falls site, and was used in recognition of a significant family donation — from the family of Hall of Fame chair Mike King.
It was the Hall of Fame’s Site Committee, headed up by Charlie Hammond and also including Doug Goudy, Rod Betteridge and volunteer landscape architect Art Lierman, which walked out of meeting with Town staff in April, 2012, and decided they needed to take one more all-inclusive look at the scenic property.
“I don’t know who it was, but somebody said, ‘I know we haven’t really thought about this area (directly behind the existing museum), but maybe it will work’,” Hammond recalled. “So we got out a tape measure and staked it out. And we said, ‘you know? It does fit here’.”
The diamond would be suitable for both youth baseball and slow pitch. “The kids run further around the bases in baseball than they do in slow pitch, but we’ll make the infield big enough so we can have baseball there too,” Crawford explained.
Hammond says that if it’s only the Town and the Hall involved in funding, the construction of the diamond and some other improvements to the entire site will likely be included in the deal, as well as the Hall’s management of Teddy’s Field.
“That give us five diamonds . . . It makes it quite a (baseball) complex,” he commented. “That’s great for tournaments. And I think it’s going to be great for businesses because the people coming to the tournaments will also be coming downtown.”
But the Hall of Fame is also eyeing a funding program through the Federal government’s FedDev department, aimed specifically at improvements to sports fields. It’s hoped funding from that program could be put towards washrooms, changerooms and other facilities that would further enhance the attractiveness of the site for major event organizers.
And, down the road of course, it also fits well with the Hall of Fame and Museum’s longer-term goals, including constructing a brand new museum display building, educational spaces, and theatre — possibly near the existing gravel parking lot.
The proposed new diamond “definitely fits well up at the Hall,” agreed Crawford. “We’ve got lots of space up there. And it’s going to get more people playing ball up there, and more people coming there in general.”