Chicago Park District strikes out in field maintenance

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By Robert Felton of the Austin Weekly News

The Chicago Park District has failed to maintain its fields for youth baseball at two West Side parks, say community members. Garfield Park, 100 N. Central Park Ave., and Columbus Park, on 500 S. Central Ave., are insufficiently maintained, they say, and inadequate to house local high school baseball games.

Nearly a dozen showed up at a press conference April 14 at Columbus Park. Parents and local activists complained about what they say is the shoddy condition of the two parks.

C.B. Johnson, manager of social service agency Campaign for Drug Free Westside, was especially disheartened by the lack of maintenance at Columbus Park where he played youth baseball as a kid in the 1970s.

“Back then, the park district had an after-school program for young people in the community to go and play ball,” he said. “Sometimes in the summer we would just play for hours and it kept us involved while not in school.”

Johnson recalled officials telling him that the park’s poor upkeep was due to a lack of manpower or budget woes.

“Meanwhile, right next to the baseball field [at Columbus] there is the golf course, which is very well maintained, even though our tax dollars are going toward it as well,” said Johnson, who concluded that the golf course is a source of steady revenue for the park district, while the park is not.

“I’m not criticizing the golf course because I play on it myself,” he said. “But there are not many options for the youth in our community. Youth baseball is a way to teach self-esteem, teamwork and community. The park district owes it to the children of Austin to provide parks which they can use for this purpose.”

Austin community activist and youth baseball organizer Dwayne Truss added, “When the kids come to the park to play their games, they expect the clean-up to have already taken place. Instead, the pitcher’s mound has grass on it, the outfield grass has not been cut and there are no foul lines between the bases.

“I officiated a game earlier this month for Marshall High School’s team, and I had to guess whether the ball was fair or not because there was no foul line.”

Truss said he’s willing to get community residents together to begin cleaning the fields.

Marshall, the Austin High School campus and Fredrick Douglas Academy High School use both parks to play their season home games. Lawrence Pryor, varsity coach for Douglass’ baseball team, wrote a letter to Chicago Park District CEO Timothy J. Mitchell on Jan. 10, requesting that the park district redesign Levin Park, 5458 W. Kinzie Parkway, to accommodate baseball.

“We’ve been playing some of our home games at Levin Park, but while it’s better maintained, it does not have the baseball diamond to play on.”

So far, Pryor’s appeal has gone unaddressed. Still, he maintains that Columbus and Garfield Parks are the only accessible grounds to host baseball in his school’s immediate area. Also, commuting kids by bus to a location outside of Austin is not a practical option due to Douglass’ limited budget, Pryor added.

A spokesperson for the Chicago Park District was unavailable for comment.

Click here to see recent park photos.

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