Representatives from Bartow Dixie Baseball were literally swinging for the fences when they made their pitch to City Commissioners during the latter’s work session held Monday, Nov. 4.
The organization wants the OK to enlarge Baseball Field No. 4, which is located in the upper northeast quadrant of the George Pittas Complex and abuts a portion of Mosaic Park. (To get an idea of what area that is, take a circle and divide it into quarters. The upper right-hand quarter is where field No. 4 would be.)
The purpose is to consolidate ball playing to the complex, something it cannot do for the 13-to-14 age group because the fields are too small. Currently, the depth of the field from home plate to dead center is 200 feet. As a consequence, the older ball players play their games on baseball diamonds located at Field 555, located several miles away. It has had a negative impact on the 13-14 age bracket, as many choose not to continue participating in Bartow Dixie Baseball.
“We hope to continue to keep those kids in our league,” said Jennifer Walker, who made the presentation upon the behalf of the board of directors of Bartow Dixie Baseball; she was accompanied by Erin Clements (no relation to Bartow Mayor James F. Clements). “We love our kids and we want them to stay in our league.”
Walker explained that in speaking with a number of youth who will have matured into that age bracket that the feedback she had gotten was that many of them did not want to play home games at Field 555 for several reasons. One reason was the idea of playing on the “big field” scares them. Another reason, said Walker, was that other than parents and family, very few people attend the games. She told commissioners what the reaction was when she asked those players if they would remain with Dixie Baseball if games were played at the complex that adjoins the Bartow Civic Center.
“Oh yes, ma’am. Absolutely,” said Walker.
In a handout distributed to commissioners prior to her presentation, Bartow Dixie Baseball wants to move the fences on field No. 4 to where the distance from home plate to dead center will be 270 feet. It would also do a number of improvements to the playing field, including electrical and plumbing work that would be needed.
Commissioners leaned toward supporting the request.
“It looks like a good plan to me,” said Commissioner Pat Huff. He then spoke of a recent occurrence when on vacation at Maggie Valley, N.C. He was wearing a garment that bore the name of Bartow. He was approached by a man who asked Huff if that was Bartow, Fla. Huff said yes. “He then told me, ‘I played in the Dixie League World Series in Bartow in 1984.’”
Walker added to that, stating that Dixie Baseball Inc. HQ loves holding competitions in Bartow; Dixie Baseball held its World Series in Bartow during the summer of 2012.
City Manager George A. Long suggested Bartow Dixie Baseball do three things, among them getting with the city’s recreation and utility departments, and determining three factors: the impact on other activities, if any; exposure to safety and liability exposures; and what the irrigation and lighting needs will be. Long concluded, stating he did not foresee any objections to the request. He called for all parties to work together and put together a plan, and said he believed something could be put together in short order.
Walker asked if it were “do-able” to have all this work completed by the start of the playing season, which commences the first week of March. Long said that the sooner the city gets the plan then the city will be “good to go.”
This is not the first time the issue of consolidating games has arisen. Several years ago the same issue was bandied about by the then-board of directors for Bartow Dixie Baseball Inc. Most recently, the organization approached Parks and Recreation, but things have not progressed, in part, due to the departure of Angie Whisnant, who administered the Parks and Recreation Department. Whisnant recently resigned to take a position as an assistant city manager in Kirksville, Mo.