South Side remodeling baseball, softball fields

By Assistant Metro Editor

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the Chicago Park District and two Chicago aldermen have come up with a plan to invest millions of dollars into restoring and enhancing baseball parks on the South Side.

On Sept. 4, Emanuel, Ald. Anthony Beale (9th Ward), Ald. Carrie Austin (34th Ward) and Chicago Park District General Superintendent Michael Kelly announced the city will invest $6.5 million in the program that seek to make baseball and softball more accessible to young South Siders.

Capital investment funds and contributions from the Cubs and the White Sox will provide three South Side parks with new tuft fields, concession stands, restrooms and other renovations that will improve the quality of facilities for Little League teams. The parks to be renovated are Palmer Park in Roseland, Tuley Park in Chatham and Jackie Robinson Park in Washington Heights.

Half a million dollars will be spent on improvements, renovations and restructuring the parks, according to a press statement from the city.

“Baseball and softball help youth learn fundamental skills, leadership and sportsmanship while staying active, safe and engaged in our park,” Kelly said in the statement.  “It is with great enthusiasm that we provide additional opportunities for youth to participate in these sports.”

Kathia Williams, a Burnside resident, lives on the 600 block of East 91st Street, next to Tuley Park. Although she said she supports youth league baseball and softball, she does not understand how the city’s plans were formed.

“I don’t know where they came up with that idea—did they take a poll?” Williams said. “If they have that much money to spend on baseball, maybe there’s some other sports they could have put money toward.”

Williams said Tuley Park got a new baseball field five years ago and that she does not see why there should be a new field or improvements. She said she would like to see Emanuel, Ald. Beale and Ald. Austin invest in other sports.

“I wish they would have spent money on a running or walking track,” Williams said. “[A] lot of people walk around that park. There is no track and they are going to spend money on baseball?  Baseball is fine, I enjoy baseball, but $6.5 million is an awful lot.”

Williams said some of the money should be spent on making the park safer and cleaner for the residents near by. Oftentimes, people who do not live in the area leave their trash in the park after playing and watching softball games, Williams said.  She is also angry about the local pool in Tuley Park that was closed this past summer.

Jeffrey Baker, a candidate running for alderman of the 21st Ward, said parents and their children should feel safe when they go to any park district on the South Side.

“The city has to figure out a way to work with its park districts, keep maintenance up and make them a safe and attractive place to play,” Baker said.

Baker said the investment is wise, but the city should have done it years ago. However, Baker said he is worried about the timing. 

I think it would have been wise 10 years ago, and now it’s wise, but I’m concerned about the timing,” Baker said. “It is awfully close to election time. This could be looked at as an election-time gift to confuse voters. Why couldn’t this have happened three years ago? Those things bother me, but I think this is definitely a wonderful thing.”

Amara Enyia, the former alderman of the 9th Ward and a mayoral candidate, said the Jackie Robinson West Little League victory may have played a role in the recent investment plan but said there is a bigger issue that needs to be addressed.

“The investment is fine because it will create opportunities for more young people to get involved with sports, but I think this needs to be not just in response to the [Jackie Robinson West] victory; it should be a matter of policy,” Enyia said.  “We should be looking at more ways to invest in our young people. It should not be the exception.”

Enyia said the city should prioritize Chicago’s budget by making sure it is investing in human capital like comprehensive jobs for adults and young people. 

She added that infrastructure, sewers and resources for public schools should be a priority as well. Enyia said creating  more job opportunities is the most important thing for the city of Chicago.

“I think we know there is more that can be done to ensure kids—whether on the South Side, West Side or North Side—have adequate facilities where they can engage in enrichment activities [such as] sports or other park district programs,” Enyia said.