Tosa Baseball League President Jim Hoefgen made a football reference when he said he's looking for an 'Aaron Rodgers' Hail Mary moment' after plans to renovate two fields at Milwaukee's Center Street Park hit a snag.
Work to upgrade the fields at the 4-acre Milwaukee County Park — which would be used by girls ages 7-14 for a fast-pitch softball league — was scheduled to begin in the spring after government bodies and private donors stepped forward with funding.
But based on reviews completed by a safety and risk team, the county approved plans that would make just one of the fields a competitive one as the fields' outfields overlap by about 25 feet, creating an injury risk.
'Where were these concerns 12 to 14 months ago?' said Hoefgen, who added that the league has met with county officials a handful of times over the last year at the park to discuss plans and only learned several weeks ago there was a safety concern. Over the years, the park's baseball fields have fallen into disrepair and turned into eyesores dotted with divots and potholes, he said.
Milwaukee Alderman Michael Murphy echoed the frustration. 'This is a county park,' he said. 'Technically, it's their obligation to fix up this park and make this useful and practical.'
Murphy, an advocate of public parks, said the county is 'dropping a unique opportunity' to help transform the park.
But John Dargle Jr., director of Milwaukee County Parks, said the county only recently received the Tosa Baseball League's application to upgrade the fields, accounting for the one-field approval that seemed to arrive late in the game.
'They can make improvements to two fields, but we've suggested they make improvements to one field that would be competitive,' said Dargle, adding that the county supports the project and will provide funds toward it.
The other field could be used for practice purposes, among other things, he said.
Hoefgen said the league never had any intention of fixing just one field and is 'happy if the ball leaves the infield,' as the young players usually don't have the strength to hit the ball far enough to reach the outfield. If adults want to use the field, games should not be scheduled at the same time, he said.
The updated fields would have been used this summer by the nonprofit Tosa Fastpitch Youth League, an offshoot of the Tosa Baseball League, said Hoefgen. About 20 games are held at various sites every weeknight during the warmer months. The league, founded in 1971, already uses community baseball fields around town, including those at Longfellow Middle School and Brietlow Field, and has a shortage of spots to play in.
Behind the funding
Funding for the project fell short in January when the Wauwatosa Common Council voted 9-7 not to provide $7,500 toward the project. Some council members said funding the project would not have been a wise use of dollars, while others argued that the athletic fields at the park had fallen into disrepair.
Two local donors — Realtor Beth Jaworski and WaterStone Bank — then stepped up to contribute $7,500 each toward the renovation of the two fields, which would include upgrades such as new fencing, dugouts, protective fencing and resurfacing, but keep the same footprint.
Donations from the two Wauwatosa businesses joined contributions from other sources, including $30,000 from Milwaukee County and $7,500 from the city of Milwaukee. The Tosa Baseball League also planned to contribute $15,000 to the project.
Thanks to The Friends of Center Street Park, a community organization with a mission to improve the park, a number of improvements have been made, including an annual spring cleanup, an ice rink and fall festivities, among other things.
Hoefgen said the Tosa Baseball League will continue to work with county officials to make the plan a viable one and will continue to look within Wauwatosa for other possible fields. If a solution isn't found, that funding might need to be returned to the donors, he said.
'Every day was a different hurdle with the county,' he said. 'This one might be insurmountable.'