The lights were on against the darkened sky and the moon was as round and full as a hanging curve ball. And, oh yes, the outfield grass was green and the infield a delightful-looking light brown. Better yet, there were nine players on the field not counting the batter, the kid waiting to bat, and the umpires.
Baseball returned to Bailey Park recently, after an absence of a half-dozen years or so. It was a marvelous sight: on the evening in question, the Uniontown High School team played McKeesport High, and for the second home game in a row, the Red Raiders staged a late inning comeback. Jubilation.
Bailey Park is unique in the annals of sandlot baseball. It’s the only ballfield that I’m aware of located practically in the middle of a town. It’s a wonderful venue. It beats anything in western Pennsylvania for ambience. It’s a jewel.
But as celebratory as we might wax, there is still work to do. The reopening of Bailey Park to high school baseball is a signal that things are moving in the right direction. The challenge is to keep the momentum going.
What about this summer? It’s my understand the Uniontown school district will maintain the field after the high school season is completed. The grass will be cut and (hopefully) the infield will be scrapped. (The smaller diamond, used each spring for high school softball, should also be dragged, to prevent the emergence of tufts of grass that are ruinous alike to aesthetics and to ground balls.)
It my understanding as well that city officials hope to induce a team or two to play an occasional game at Bailey Park. American Legion teams maybe. That would be great.
Great but hardly satisfactory. It’s disappointing to hear city officials plead for understanding in the organization of summer youth leagues. Yes, it takes time. Yes, there is no way teams and a schedule can be put together in time for play this summer.
But it’s not too early to begin planning for the summer of 2020 and beyond. Each season that passes without organized leagues is an opportunity lost: local leaders, in government and out, have an obligation to do all they can to provide young people with useful, productive things to do. It’s called nurturing.
Politicians like to talk about how much they care about kids. Well, here is a chance to show the leaders of tomorrow what the leaders of today can accomplish. Start planning now for next year and the next decade.
That should also be the case when it comes to both the city of Uniontown and South Union Township working as one to enhance recreational and leisure time opportunities for residents of all ages.
Kudos to the township for its plan to convert the former O.C. Cluss Lumber warehouse on Pennsylvania Avenue into an indoor soccer and lacrosse facility. (I know a young person - a junior at Laurel Highlands - who would give anything to have access to a local lacrosse league or team. If I know one such individual, there must be other would-be lacrosse players around.)
Now, the building the township is re-imagining happens to sit just across the street from Bailey Park. They are so close you might as well say they sit side-by-side, even though one, Bailey Park, is in the city while the warehouse is in the township.
But why should that matter? Why should a line on a map be an impediment to a practical, common sense undertaking? What, is Pennsylvania Avenue the Berlin Wall, a crossing point at the Tex-Mex border?
The city already provides police protection for the portion of the new Sheepskin Trail that the township has installed. The walking trail extends from the township’s Hutchinson ballfields to the putative sports complex supervisors have in mind.
With city-township cooperation already taking place, why not extent the working relationship to include a joint venture involving both the new Pennsylvania Avenue sports complex and old Bailey Park?
Both the city and township have something to gain. It would be a win-win. Indoor lacrosse and soccer on one side of the street and who knows what on the other: the Pennsylvania Avenue side of Bailey Park is wide open and subject to innovation. Pickleball-tennis courts, a combination little tike soccer and t-ball field, an adult wiffleball diamond, a skateboard rink, modern, safe swing sets and slides?
Let the planning begin.
I suspect there will be reluctance on the part of either or both the city and the township to reach across the avenue of distrust for a hearty handshake. Questions of reliability, credit, and money constitute hurdles high enough to stymie the neighborliness that’s needed to pull this off.
I’m not sure what position the state might take. The Department of Community and Economic Development could put the kibosh on the whole thing. In that event, unimaginative bureaucrats would be in line for a little creative nudging by local members of the General Assembly and Wolf administration higher-ups.
I do know this: the sports venue the township has in mind and an expanded and refurbished Bailey Park are the very attractions that make or break communities; they are the kind of investments that pay dividends year after year. Addressing issues of livability and pride-of-place, they invite people to put down roots, to raise children, and to care.
Richard Robbins lives in Uniontown. He can be reached at email@example.com.