Isiah Mcnaught slides into first base during baseball practice at Colver Park in Phoenix on Friday. Organizers of a Cal Ripken league for youth baseball players are appealing to the City Council for a fee waiver for use of the fields in exchange for maintenance supplied by the organization. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch - Jamie Lusch

A pitch for hardball

PHOENIX — A dozen baseball players are hoping to score points with city officials today in a bid for a new home field.

With the beginning of a new baseball league — the South Valley Cal Ripken — the players are hoping to use the city's Colver Park for their home games.

League president and coach Matt Onofrei appealed to the Phoenix City Council last week for the city to allow players to provide field maintenance in lieu of paying $5 daily usage fees.

Council members have added discussion of the request to a special workshop today during which a handful of other issues will be discussed.

Onofrei requested that the city waive day-use fee for the otherwise minimally used park and waive a hardball ban that prevents baseballs from being used at the park.

With the city facing funding challenges — and the league, Onofrei said, "very not for profit" — players could improve and maintain the playing fields for the benefit of the community.

In recent weeks, Onofrei said coaches, parents, players and a handful of community businesses have injected about $2,000 in materials and labor into the field and received a $500 donation of soil from Consolidated Electrical.

"We're operating on a shoestring budget, so we really don't have the funds to pay for use of the field," Onofrei said.

If permitted, the league would maintain the lawns, provide temporary fencing and cover water costs.

Onofrei was discouraged to not have received a requested temporary relief from the daily fees to reserve the park space. Acknowledging that the city is also financially strapped, Onofrei told the council, "If you guys can't take care of the fields, please allow us to."

Council members had concerns ranging from liability to whether the group could be permitted, according to the city's insurance provider, to make improvements to the park.

Mayor Carlos DeBritto said the council would have to consult with city legal advisors, Public Works and the Parks Commission.

"I think it's a very worthy cause, and we thank you for bringing it up," DeBritto told Onofrei, noting the city would discuss the request.

Colleen Christensen, vice president of the league, said city support was crucial for the players, all of whom live in the community.

Christensen said parents of the small group of players were excited for a competitive league to be offered.

Onofrei and Christensen hope to set up a league for 200 to 250 players by next year and would like to see the field made available for practices and, eventually, additional playing space.

"We have some super-supportive parents who are out there with wheelbarrows and rakes and really excited we're making this happen for their kids," Christensen said.

"If we can get that much attention from a month's worth of hard work, imagine what we can do in the next year."

Team parent Jody Datz applauded the new league's efforts to provide a sense of community for players.

"Phoenix is a wonderful community, but they need to bring it up a notch and have these things that make a place feel like a hometown," Datz said.

"It would sure be nice to have a home field to land on instead of slumming around to different fields."

At present, the league utilizes Upper Rogue Cal Ripken fields in White City, which it shares with other Cal Ripken leagues around the region.

Datz, whose 8-year-old son plays in the new league, said the city should embrace some positive change for the community's kids.

"I just found out there's a snack shack at the park. I've lived here for 12 years and have never once seen that open," she marveled.

"I think if we could make this happen that people would really gravitate here. I think there are some changes that are a long time coming."

Council members will meet at the City Hall annex, 100 S. B St., at 6 tonight for a brief executive session on labor negotiations. The public portion of the meeting, which will include the Cal Ripken request, discussion of city water rates and the 2012-13 budget, will begin at 6:30 p.m.

For more information, search for "South Valley Cal Ripken" on Facebook.

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at

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