When it comes to youth baseball, Dan Peck isn’t easily deterred.
Last year, as president of Spokane North Little League, he was one of the main advocates behind a project that would turn the old Northside Landfill by Indian Trail Road into a $4 million baseball park with seven fields for baseball, two for softball and three smaller fields for disabled players. That project never got off the ground because neighbors in the area were opposed to the development.
Now, after having changed affiliation to Spokane Babe Ruth League, Peck is back on the field lambasting the city of Spokane for not making youth baseball a priority.
“I think it’s very simple: Franklin Park should be used just for the kids,” said Peck, sitting in the bleachers at Franklin Park last week. “Now that softball is getting the Dwight Merkel Complex it doesn’t make any sense that they get to keep Franklin, too.”
The $11 million Dwight Merkel Sports Complex is expected to be finished by July and includes five softball fields.
“Taxpayers are paying for that complex for the Softball Association to use – so why can’t we get this?” Peck asked, motioning toward the fields at Franklin Park. “And why am I funding these baseball fields for people who don’t pay taxes in the city? They come in here and play from the Valley.”
The view from City Hall differs quite a lot from Peck’s version of things.
Come spring 2011, the city of Spokane and the Parks and Recreation Department will have spent $3 million of the 2007 parks bond to convert nine general baseball fields into youth baseball fields.
City of Spokane spokeswoman Marlene Feist explained in an e-mail that those nine fields will be designated for youth baseball and are located in each of the three City Council districts.
“There will be two new youth baseball fields at Underhill Park, one at Liberty Park, three at Chief Garry Park, two at B.A. Clark Park, and one at the Dwight Merkel Complex,” Feist wrote. “The fields will be ready for use in spring 2011. Youth baseball will also have access to the new Dwight Merkel Softball Complex and will continue to have access to the Franklin Park Complex.”
That’s nice, said Peck, but he would prefer youth fields on the north side of town where his players and their families live.
“Underhill is just too far for us to drive,” said Peck. “I don’t know why I am being shut out. It’s the Softball Association that has the control here.”
Fuzzy Buckenberger, the commissioner for the Amateur Softball Association of Spokane Metro, would like to remind Peck of a few things: “The softball program actually fundraised and built Franklin Park, with the city chipping in. And we have no control over the fields at Dwight Merkel – we have to put in for field use out there just like anybody else. Mr. Peck could put in for fields, too, if he wanted to.”
Buckenberger also said youth baseball teams – including Babe Ruth – have field time scheduled at Franklin Park.
“I think the city is being more than fair to everybody,” said Buckenberger. “When the softball players got together to build Franklin Park, we didn’t get $3 million to help us out. The city is doing a great job at stepping up to the plate and building these new fields.” Also, said Buckenberger, Clark Park is just a few blocks from Franklin Park.
The Amateur Softball Association’s contract to run the Franklin Park complex expires July 31 and will not be renewed, wrote Feist.
“The Parks and Recreation Department will consider a field use agreement with Spokane American Softball Association and future users of the Franklin Park Complex that includes rules and procedures to ensure that Franklin Park is a joint-use facility, accommodating both softball and youth baseball,” Feist wrote.
Yet Peck is not ready to give up. He claims that Spokane is the only larger city in the Northwest that doesn’t have a dedicated youth baseball facility.
“We play at the elementary schools, and the fields there are in terrible shape because they are also used as playgrounds,” said Peck. “There are dips at the bases and divots in the grass. The balls bounce everywhere, and they could hit a kid in the head.”
He’s gathering signatures from youth baseball parents who want Franklin Park dedicated to youth baseball exclusively.
“I have 300 signatures, and I’m going to continue to collect them,” Peck said. “We are up against the good old boys network.”