By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
Thanks very much, Toronto Blue Jays.
The meteoric rise in the country’s sole Major League Baseball franchise has throngs of young Oshawa kids looking to be the next Josh Donaldson or Edwin Encarnacion. And while the bolstered numbers are healthy sign of kids wanting to get more active, the strain on city facilities may cause some budding athletes to miss out.
“The real challenge next year is meeting the growth,” says Ken Babcock, the president of Baseball Oshawa. “We’re maxed out with diamonds.”
And the need should not be news to city staffers. During consultation for the city’s Parks, Recreation, Library and Culture Facilities Needs Assessment, Baseball Oshawa addressed the fact that it would need more facilities in the future.
“Baseball Oshawa was the only ball organization in attendance and spoke to the need for diamonds of sufficient size to meet their needs,” the report reads.
The document, and its recommendation for no new diamonds for the life of the study period, which extends to 2031, was approved by council in 2015.
However, what may be news to city staffers is the explosion in registrants for this latest baseball season. According to Babcock, Baseball Oshawa saw more than 1,000 kids looking to pick up a bat, and that number is expected grow next summer. The needs assessment noted only 735 kids were registered for baseball programs – however those numbers only take into account Oshawa residents who are registered.
“As much as you try and use evidence and you try and use trends, you really can’t predict that far out,” says Julie MacIsaac, the city’s director of recreation and culture services.
The study also looked at park use during prime time hours in the summer and found between 44 and 73 per cent of those hours were being used at the Lakeview Park diamonds, 67 per cent at the Knights of Columbus diamonds and both Ritson Field and Kinsmen Stadium were fully booked. The data was based on 2014 numbers. The bottom line: baseball players need more space.
“We’re really hoping that the city can come up with some really great plans for us to expand baseball capacity and understand that it’s growing and we need more places to play,’ Babcock says, acknowledging the city’s efforts to correspond with the sporting groups.
“They’ve been really great with this,” he adds.
Over the past year, a few steps have been taken to improve Oshawa’s current supply of baseball diamonds, as the city has undertaken minor improvements at Sherwood Park, Kinsmen Stadium, McLaughlin and Lakefront West park. The facelift of Glen Stewart Park will also see a pair of rarely used softball diamonds converted to one for hardball.
“We do as much as we can,” MacIsaac says . “We’re looking at a number of other improvements.”
These include work at Kingside and Brookside parks along with Ritson Field, where Baseball Oshawa hopes a lighting system will be installed.
“That’s all subject to council and budget approval and they’re all thing that are on our radar for sure and certainly things that we’re trying to plan for,” MacIsaac says.
And while the needs assessment may have recommendations for no new diamonds until 2031, MacIsaac says it’s really a “living document” and changes can be made.
“On of the things that we want to do is continually upgrade and update it,” she says, noting that staff meets with user groups regularly. However, no formal assessment has been slated for the needs assessment until 2031.