July 26, 2012The song lyrics are, "Take me out to the ball game," not "Take me out to the ball game at the strangely designed, highly irregular and unusable field." However, the two baseball fields at Guilford County's Southwest Park are so out of whack that – despite a plethora of teams looking for fields to play on – the park's fields have only been rented out once for baseball since the park opened in June 2009.
Southwest Park is a 90-acre park at the intersection of Wall Road and Jonquil Drive in southwest Guilford County. The park has fishing, three miles of hiking trails, a dog park, kayak and canoe rentals and five picnic shelters that can also be rented.
Also available for rent, according to the park's website, are "two softball/youth baseball fields."
But, while private and public baseball fields around Guilford County see a steady business, the two fields at Southwest Park never see any action. According to county staff, in the three years the park has been open, the fields have been rented out a total of one time for baseball.
Youth sports enthusiasts say it's a shame because there's a need for playable baseball fields in that part of Guilford County.
One major problem with the fields is that the infield is cut for high school baseball. The fields are set-up to have bases 90 feet apart – the right distance for high school and Major League Baseball – however no high school team would want to play there because, while the infield is the right size for high school baseball, the fence is set up for Little League. So high schoolers or older players, who would find the infield the correct size, would consistently knock the ball out of the park. Though that might be fun for batters, it makes the fields unusable for competitive baseball at the high school level.
Conversely, Little League teams never use the fields because the infield is cut much too large for kids that age. In Little League Baseball, regulation bases are 60 feet apart. The bases at the fields can be moved to various distances. However, if a Little League team played there, the outfielders would be standing in the infield dirt because the infield is too big, extending too far into what should be the outfield.
There are other irregularities as well that make the fields unplayable or unappealing for both high school and Little League players. For instance, the distance between home plate and the backstop is too great; the areas for foul balls are out of proportion with the rest of the field, and the concession stand is so far away from the fields – not to mention it's up a hill – that it's impractical for use during a baseball game.
In addition, there's no irrigation system for the fields – even though the park is built on the banks of the Randleman Reservoir – and the grass isn't the Bermuda grass traditionally used for baseball fields.
Berry Bynum, who manages the park, knows a bit about baseball: His son played for the Cincinnati Reds organization.
When asked about the strange design of the fields, he acknowledged that the setup doesn't meet the needs of either Little League players or high schoolers.
Bynum said he didn't know why the fields are the way they are – he said they were that way when he began working at the park three years ago.
He said the baselines were cut "pro style," which would be good for high school games, but he added that high school players would constantly hit the ball over the fence, and sometimes into the Randleman Reservoir.
Southwest Park is well used, Bynum said. He said county residents come out to engage in activities like canoeing, or hiking, as well as for picnics there.
Just not for baseball.
The fields could be used, and sometimes are, for, say, a family pickup game or a woman's softball game. However, as they're now set up, the fields will likely never be rented out for competitive baseball – despite the solid demand for Little League fields.
Guilford County Parks Planner Roger Bardsley said that, after a general design for the park was worked out before the park opened, the project was handed over to a civil engineer.
Bardsley said that, in hindsight, the fields could have been thought out better.
"I suppose we would have done things differently," he said.
Bardsley said the philosophy behind Southwest Park was that it would be geared more toward family activities rather than events such as Little League games, which in many cases would require more parking than the park has available.
Bardsley also said there were three shelters that overlook the two baseball fields, and the hope was that people would rent the fields for friendly baseball games or, say, for family events that involved some low-key ball games.
"It didn't work out that way," he said.
He said that, in other parts of the country – especially in Midwestern states – this type of setup is popular.
"If we were in the Midwest, it would be crowded," he said.
Moving the park to somewhere in the Midwest, however, would by all accounts be prohibitively expensive.
Bardsley said that, in recent years, in this part of the country, there had been a move toward youth soccer and lacrosse and away from baseball, so the county's emphasis hadn't been on youth baseball fields. "Softball and baseball – we're waiting for them to come back around," Bardsley said.
The good news is that most of the problems with the fields at the park could be fixed with little expense.
Bardsley said the county would certainly be amenable to making changes in the fields especially if a Little League team or youth league expressed an interest in consistently using the parks for games.
The base rate for the baseball fields is $75 per day per field, though there could be additional costs – for instance, if large crowds required additional park staff for an event.
Those prices are much lower than private fields, which do quite a bit of business – the fields at Southwest Park don't draw baseball games because of the design problems.
Proehlific Park, a private sports facility in Greensboro, for instance, gets a good deal of use from its youth baseball fields at a cost of $750 for three fields for a two-day weekend rental package.
Currently, Guilford County has no staff to run its seven parks. The county outsources the work to Greensboro, Burlington, Forsyth County, Jamestown and Gibsonville.
Though Southwest Park is owned by Guilford County, it's managed and maintained by Gibsonville.