By Greg Price
The Baseball/Softball Enhancement Society has gained some momentum with an endorsement from the Taber Recreation Board.
Over the last few months, a group of individuals in the community have come together with the purpose of enhancing the baseball and softball facilities in Taber, with the group applying for society status.
The first push of the society is to get the fourth diamond completed at Ken McDonald Memorial Sports Park as part of a multi-phase proposal.
Currently, there is $250,000 approved in the 2019 capital budget for the development of a fourth ball diamond at Ken McDonald Memorial Sports Park. The society is looking at sponsorship opportunities to offset some of the costs that would not only look at adding another diamond to the sports park, but would also convert the high school diamond to softball, build a concession stand and washroom facilities, and some extra maintenance into the Lon Ferguson diamond.
“It would be 4×8 (foot) signs on the ball diamonds and we want to go to the town council to do tax (deductible) donations and have a bank account and the town run it. We have the (Southern) Alberta Summer Games coming up and I’d like to have signs up prior,” said Rick Popadynetz, a member with the Baseball/Softball Enhancement Society, at the Taber Recreation Board’s March meeting. “I’m willing to do all the leg work and do all the sponsorship, and we will be doing some volunteer work.”
Nathan Cummins, another member of the Baseball/Softball Enhancement Society outlined the most current data of the interest level in the sport in the area. The Mennonite Softball League has 28 teams comprised on average of 12 players per team with a 16-game schedule and practice once a week. The league features teams with kids 14 and up and adults. There are 10 teams from the Taber area. The Taber Mixed Slow-Pitch League has 14 teams comprised of between 15-20 players each. Games are played Thursday and Friday nights, using five diamonds on Fridays and two on Thursdays. High school features one team from W.R. Myers for Grades 9-12 with two practices a week and 1-2 games per week. Taber Minor Baseball ranges from T-ball to senior age with just under 100 kids playing. Currently four school diamonds are used along with Confederation Park and Ken McDonald.
There are currently four standard softball diamonds available in Taber. There is one standard high school baseball diamond. There are currently no standard intermediate diamonds or standard Little League Minor/Major diamonds.
“Eventually, everything that is out there (Ken McDonald Memorial Sports Park) is softball related. Where all the softball people stay in the same area, both of those leagues,” said Cummins. “This will allow ample room for the growing softball community and allows the softball community to host more tournaments here.”
Phase two of the proposal would be to build a new facility to replace the old one at Ken McDonald Memorial Sports Park, along with an intermediate age proposal diamond, preferably close to the high-school age diamond that would allow shared access to concessions, washrooms, batting cages and parking.
Phase three would be converting the Confederation park diamonds to minor/major-sized parks.
Cummins noted the dip in enrollment in baseball from the minor (nine to 10 year olds) to major (11-12 year olds), which Cummins noted could be attributed to not having proper facilities.
“The minors/majors are currently not playing on the right-sized diamond. I’m not saying that’s 100 per cent of the problem, but it is part of the problem why we are seeing those numbers drop off,” said Cummins. “Those are the age divisions where they might start being able to hit it over the fence. Currently we don’t have that regulation diamond with a regulation mound. Another thing that is changing in the Little League programs is they have changed the age cutoffs, and so there is a wider gap now between when you leave the Little League program at 14 years old and when you go into an American Legion program. There are four rep teams fired out of Lethbridge this year, because there is literally no place for these kids to play. If we can carry there kids kids all the way through starting at the younger age groups, you might as well do a program here instead of seeing them leave Taber.”
There are no rep teams in the area, with players that are interested going to outlying communities like Lethbridge.
“We did run an all-summer program, but we ran it out of Coadlae,” said Cummins. “Those diamonds were in terrible shape. We are maintaining them better here, they are just not the right dimensions.”
Popadynetz cautioned the organization is not looking to do everything at once, but work itself up in the different phases over time. The society’s presentation showed possible new locations for built baseball diamonds being the trout pond/old rodeo grounds area, west of Legion Park, and east and north area of Ken McDonald Memorial Sports Park.
The society is looking at selling 30 signs at $1,500 for a three-year commmitment for businesses. The business will provide the sign and be responsible for the maintenance of the sign.
“It will follow basically the same thing the Taber Exhibition Associaton does with its signs. It’s competitive, it’s easy and I’ll have to talk with Trent (Smith, recreation manager) on what type of board we’ll use, whether it be aluminum or wood signage,” said Popadynetz. “”We have an intensive list (of possible sponsors). This rec board back in 2012 created an inventory list through the Town of Taber with Sponsorship Connections.”
Danielle Hansen, chairperson for the Taber Recreation Board, asked if the society push will conflict with any of the sponsorship the town has already acquired.
“This is totally separate, we are a non-profit group. We are doing this to raise money to build a ball diamond and we are doing it for the kids,” said Popadynetz. “We do have to be very careful about putting signs up of competing businesses with different businesses competing for the same clientele. You have to be very cognicent of that,” noted Garth Bekkering, recreation board member and town councillor.
Bekkering inquired what further funding will the society acquire besides possible signage sponsorship which would only equal $45,000 for the project.
“I think we will be on par. You say it will cost $250,000 to build, but I see in 2019, the town has put it in their budget for $250,000. So, that money is coming and we’ll build extras like the concession and bathrooms to get the ball rolling,” said Popadynetz. “I’m a firm believer we can get this done (Phase I).”
Also, once the society gets official status, they will be able to apply for grants and casinos that will be able to raise more money. Donating labour, materials and machinery are also options given how Ken McDonald Memorial Park was first built given the project was heavily subsidized given volunteer labour.
“For the 2019 capital budget, that’s not written in stone. Budgets can change, but there is a provision made for 2019,” Bekkering cautioned.
The Taber Recreation Board accepted the presentation of the Baseball/Softball Enhancement Society as presented and supported the initiative unanimously. Recreation board members Tamara Miyanaga and Darcy Forth were absent form the meeting.
The Baseball/Softball Enhancement Society will be making a presentation to town council likely at its March 12 meeting.