Hammond not quite a field of dreams
The ball park’s half-million dollar makeover is a step in the right direction, but more will need to be done to make the west Hammond diamond really sparkle.
Maple Ridge’s once-proud ball teams now see their top talents defect to communities that offer quality facilities and higher-calibre teams. So Wednesday’s announcement that the Hammond Park is getting $513,000 worth of improved drainage, a permanent outfield fence, a new backstop and turf was more than just a cheque-passing ceremony. It was the end of a long lobby by the Ridge Meadows Minor Baseball Association. It was the federal and local governments throwing minor ball a lifeline.
“It was like Christmas morning,” said coach Greg Bodnarchuk.
Association president Gord Easton kept the announcement a secret from him, so it would be like a new glove under the tree.
Bodnarchuk first stepped up to a plate in Maple Ridge at the age of eight. Now 50, he’s still dug in – as the association’s general manager and the guy in charge of player and coach development.
This week’s developments have been a long time coming. Nobody in Maple Ridge is more pleased than him, they the association will never again have to take the outfield fence down at Hammond, so soccer players can take over the turf.
“We’ve been needing a full-time facility forever – to help develop our coaches and players,” he said. “This is a wonderful day in Ridge Meadows Minor Baseball’s history.”
He can’t wait to step down into a Major League-style dugout at the new diamond.
To be truly first class, it will need bleachers and lights – the latter adding considerably to the amount of use that can be had out of the facility.
The association had requested a $9-million, 5,000-seat facility, then scaled back plans to $2 million with 300 seats.
Bodnarchuk has watched as the district’s top ball players move on to nearby cities, so they can play in the elite B.C. Premier Baseball League, arguably the top proving ground for hardball prospects in Canada.
Ridge is a “phenomenal baseball town,” Bodnarchuk said, but he has watched as Ridge kids scoop up the golden gloves and other awards in Langley, Coquitlam and other cities. The likes of Tyler O’Neill, last year’s Rookie of the Year and Top Offensive Player in the Premier Baseball League, would put Ridge back on the baseball map. He lives in Maple Ridge, but plays for the Langley Blaze.
“It’s a thing that’s really frustrating,” Bodnarchuk said.
Ridge has tried to enter a team in the BCPBL’s junior division, but was refused, at least in part because of the lack of facilities.
He would like to see a new application go forward for a junior team by 2014.
“It’s a beginning,” Easton said of the renovations. “I’ve got to give kudos to the people who have been fighting for this.”
He also gave credit to municipal director of parks and facilities David Boag, who went to bat for minor ball.
Yes, he would like to see a new set of bleachers, but he said local ball fans will be content to bring their lawn chairs and picnic blankets.
“We’ll be able to host some good tournaments there,” Easton said. “It’ll be a good field.”
“It’s something we’ve been dreaming about for 58 years.”