Thursday, March 25, 2004

Money sought for baseball diamonds

By John Kiesewetter
The Cincinnati Enquirer

WEST CHESTER TWP. - The West Chester Baseball Organization is seeking $1.1 million to build four baseball diamonds in Beckett Park.

After 21 years, the youth baseball group is losing its lease on the 10-acre Basil Baseball Complex on West Chester Road, along Interstate 75. The property will be sold for commercial use after this season, says Jay Basil, who started youth leagues there with his father in 1983.

"I thought we'd be here forever, and then they built an interchange right down the road" at Union Centre, Basil says.

As teams prepare for the last opening day on the three Basil diamonds, the nonprofit organization is making a pitch to area businesses for the new fields on Union Centre Boulevard, which could host two national baseball championships next year.

Basil wants to bring the National Amateur Baseball Federation tournament for 15-year-olds to the township next year. The Continental Amateur Baseball Association World Series for 12-year-olds also would move to Beckett Park.

About 20 teams from across the United States and Puerto Rico will play for a second year in the 12-year-old World Series on the Basil fields July 23-30, he said. The local baseball association has a three-year commitment to host Continental's World Series here, he said.

Township Administrator Dave Gully told township trustees Tuesday he will recommend next month that the township take out a construction loan for the Beckett Park fields, which would be repaid by the baseball association.

"That would be great," an elated Basil said Wednesday. "That would accelerate our timetable, allowing us to start construction and do fund-raising both at the same time."

Township trustees also have agree to transfer a $47,987 state grant for Voice of America Park soccer fields to the Beckett Park baseball project, where Union Centre tax increment financing monies or private donations can be used as matching funds. The park district doesn't have matching funds for VOA Park because of the November park levy defeat.

Blueprints have been drawn for the four fields, two of which would be large enough for high school teams, Basil said. The other two would be for kids up to age 13, he said.

Two Basil fields can accommodate players up to age 15, while the third field is for age 10 and under, Basil said. Sixteen select - or "competitive" - league teams play on the Basil fields, where a young Ken Griffey Jr. once played, he said.

Excavating and grading 20 acres for the diamonds will cost about $300,000, said Bill Zerkle, township park director. Basil wants to begin construction and seeding this summer, so the fields will be ready next spring.

The baseball organization also plans to build a concession stand, restrooms, maintenance building and electric scoreboards. The diamonds would be used by township leagues, and "not be available for walk-on play," Gully said.

"This is a big venture, but we have so few facilities," Basil said. "This is a great deal for the township, because we'll build it and we'll maintain it."

Donations may be sent to the West Chester Baseball Organization Capital Campaign, c/o Peoples Community Bank, 6100 West Chester Road, West Chester, OH 45069.


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