More diamonds for local boys of summer

More diamonds for local boys of summer
Park volunteers Matthew Posgay, J.M. Magyar, Jay Kaplan, Tony Martin, Doug Oberdorfer and his daughter, Hannah, and Todd Osburn

Baseball League eyes more field

If you live in the San Marco area or along Hendricks Avenue just south of Emerson Street, you may hear the sound of people cheering on a nice clear spring evening when the traffic noise drops for a moment.

Where is that happy sound coming from? Most likely from the hundreds of enthusiastic parents and kids packed at the Hendricks Avenue Baseball League (HABL) fields enjoying America’s favorite pastime.

And if all goes well, there may be two additional baseball fields for players 4 to 12 years old to enjoy.

“We can really use the fields,” said Doug Oberdorfer, one of more than a dozen parents who donate their time to keep the baseball fields and surrounding area in good condition.

“If you come here on a nice weekend day there will be 500 people here in lawn chairs enjoying the day and baseball; every field will be popping,” he said. “That’s what they’ve been doing here since 1947, nearly 60 years.”

The baseball association and Hendricks Avenue Baptist Church, which owns the property, are working to raise $900,000 to build two additional fields on church property southeast of the main church buildings, make repairs and upgrades to the existing three fields, and create a perpetual maintenance fund.

The expansion project has been in the works for at least four years when league president Todd Osburn, an architect, began drawing up plans for the two additional fields. Only about 10 percent of the goal has been raised through donor pledges and annual players’ fees collected by the association, Osburn said, but HABL volunteers still plan to begin clearing the two new field sites this spring.

“We will go ahead and install the clay and the sod … the fields will be there, they just won’t have any of the amenities,” Osburn said. “We want to make sure we can get done what we started and we can showcase it to people who may to contribute.”

Artist’s conception of new baseball fields

Artist’s conception of new baseball fields

Last expansion in 2000

Officially named the Hendricks Avenue Community Athletic Association, the baseball league is known for involving many of Oberdorfer’s brethren from the Jacksonville legal community over the years who played there and later returned to coach teams and volunteer.
The church owns the property and leases it to the league, which is part of the Babe Ruth Leagues system. Participation is open to all children regardless of their religious affiliation.

It’s not the first time for expansion at the ballpark that opened in 1947. In 2000 parents worked with the church to raise funds to install a T-ball field and make substantial improvements to the existing two fields and surrounding property.

Assisting the baseball association is a labor of love for many parents, who donate their time for maintenance. For Oberdorfer, getting to the park each weekend is a welcome break from his day job as a civil attorney.

“My wife says it’s my escape and that really is the best way to put it,” he said.

The new fields will encourage the same positive atmosphere that the small league of about 300 kids is known for. “The whole premise is the positive family atmosphere … we want to do it right for the kids.”

Baseball action on a recent Saturday afternoon.

Baseball action on a recent Saturday afternoon.

Pep talk.

Pep talk.

Bursting at the seams

About $500,000 would go toward site preparation and construction of the additional two fields, plus a storage shed/restroom facility, bleachers, netting, landscaping and batting cages. The church already has parking next to where the new fields would go.

The remaining funds would break down as such: $100,000 for a new basketball floor in the church gym, $100,000 for new batting cages, safety netting, signage and other upgrades at the existing fields and $100,000 to be invested and provide perpetual funding for the baseball league’s upkeep.

Osburn is donating his time as well as architectural, civil engineering and mechanical and electrical engineering fees, saving about $100,000 on the overall cost.

League enrollment could nearly double once the new fields are complete, Osburn said. The league is already cramped nightly for space for teams needing practice and there’s been a large influx of kids in the youngest age group.

“We are really bursting at the seams with T-ballers. Right now we have 12 player teams and in T-ball nobody sits the bench so that’s a lot of kids on the field. Ideally we would like to have 10 kids per team,” Osburn said. “Having that additional field would allow us to split those games up.”
Small compared to other city baseball leagues, HABL is not for parents who see their child as major league material, Osburn said. However, it does “want to create an exciting brand of baseball where we also teach good values. We are not a win-at-all costs park.”

“We have found that kids will stay at this park and play at this park if they start here and enjoy playing,” Osburn said. “We want to keep them regardless of their talent level. We want them to stick around as long as they are interested in it.”

In Oberdorfer’s case, he played at HABL from 1979-88 for teams coached by his father. Now he is coaching the 8-under Orioles with his Benjamin, who began playing with the Orioles in 2010.

“We have a good group of parents that come out for every game and are wearing orange and black and cheer for the team. The kids identify with it and have fun with it,” he said.

And now his 4-year-old daughter Hannah began playing. Unfortunately her opening day T-ball game was rained out.

“She wasn’t happy,” he said. “She said, ‘Daddy you shouldn’t cancel the game.’”

By Greg Walsh
Resident Community News

Hendricks baseball 5

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