Little League officials have hit a home run.
In recent weeks town officials and youth baseball advocates have started to take notice of the just-completed Majors Field renovation by the community's high school off of Oakland Road.
The result of a partnership between Reading Little League and Town Hall, the estimated $40,000 capital project was funded entirely by the non-profit sporting organization and is expected to fix longstanding drainage woes at the athletic area.
According to Reading Little League President Michael Wondolowski, he and the organization's Board of Drectors are so far thrilled by the end result, especially after the renovated field survived its first burst of rainy weather in recent days.
And given the success of the joint enterprise, local little league officials can't wait to jump-start a new season of fundraising for future endeavors.
"This is a field where in the past, if we got an inch of rain, it would be completely unplayable for the next 48 hours," explained Wondolowski. "It's definitely improved. We got it to a place where on a beautiful 65 degree sunny day [after a rain event], you can now play baseball."
"There's so many people on our board who were hands-on to move this forward," added the little league president. "I think it's important for people to know that we're not done. We want to keep projects like this moving forward to benefit the town."
The genesis of the Majors Field project dates back to Sept. of 2018, when Little League officials agreed to retain Sports Turf Specialties Inc. to prepare design documents to upgrade the green-space's drainage system.
Volunteers for the non-profit, who had over the years struggled with a slew of weather-related practice and game cancellations due to poor runoff conditions, also agreed to upgrade the field's infield. Reading LIttle League, after consulting with school and parks department officials, obtained the Board of Selectmen's endorsement of the capital undertaking in April of 2018.
Though carrying a hefty $40,000 price tag, the renovations were funded at the complete expense of the youth sporting organization. Ultimately, through a flurry of fundraising activities that included a special Wiffle Ball tournament last summer, the community group was able to shoulder the expense without shifting a dime of those costs onto the families of its 456 child participants.
"We decided to augment our ability to do these projects with fundraisers. We were never looking to increase the cost people pay to play, and the [registration fee] for playing this spring is identical to last year. We didn't raise it one cent," bragged the little league president.
According to Wondolowski, the upgraded Majors Field facilities include so-called "50/70" capabilities, which allows the organization to extend the length of the base paths for older participants (generally those at least 11-years-old).
Little league fields have smaller diamond dimensions than a major league park, which measures 90 feet between bases and roughly 60.5 feet to home plate. Historically, those kids fields have featured standard distances of 60-feet between bases and 46-feet between home plate and the pitcher's rubber.
However, in a relatively new trend, youth baseball enthusiasts have introduced intermediate dimensions for players nearing the end of their little league careers. That 50/70 model includes 70-feet between bases and a 50-foot pitcher's range.
Reading Little League first began a 50/70 pilot program in 2010, before eventually adopting the standard four years later for its 12-year-old majors division and select district and travel squads. Though the change is popular, it had left participants without a home field.
"It's a trend that's happening for kids getting into the 12-year-old age group. The field is a different dimension," said the Little League president, explaining the change occurs as participants are starting to learn new base running skills such as taking leads.
Last spring, when proposing the capital project to Reading's Board of Selectmen, Little League representatives estimated the organization was paying at least $3,000 a year to rent 50/70 field spaces in neighboring communities.
Under the recent capital project, Majors Field now features two pitchers rubbers and two separate sets of base anchors.
The field modifications were somewhat involved, as the infield clay had to be enlarged to leave room for both base path arrangements. The pitcher's mound diameter also had to be expanded to 12-feet and regraded for a six-inch and an eight-inch high rubber to push off of — with a safe distance in-between both to prevent tripping hazards.
The Little League pledge last spring was also coupled with a proposal to lease several porta potties and locate them at public parks where baseball games are held.
In a survey circulated by Reading Little League in the fall of 2018, field users had cited the lack of restroom facilities as one of their top two issues with Reading's playing fields.
"Bathrooms!" responded one such survey taker. "Come on, people! We need to pee, and not in the woods or against the buildings."
Though the Board of Selectmen playfully joked with Reading Little League officials about that practical but far less grand donation, Town Manager Robert LeLacheur Jr., in a memo submitted prior to Town Hall gathering in April, noted the upswell of public support for the portable toilets.
"Last fall, [Reading Little League] conducted a survey, and the 146 respondents had two major concerns: The condition of the fields and the (lack of) availability of bathrooms," explained LeLacheur.
In that same correspondence, submitted to outline for the selectmen the parameters of the donation, the town manager also heralded the youth organization's willingness to work with various municipal officials, including school principals and parks and recreation department staff.
Little League representatives further took steps to insulate residential abutters from the ugly aesthetics of the temporary toilets by promising to erect privacy fencing around each of the temporary toilets.
Their donation ultimately covered the cost of installing four porta potties, which can now be used by visitors at five separate field facilities across town, including Hunt Field, the community's Joshua Eaton School Fields, Barrows Field, and the Majors/Tennis Court Fields.
"[Little League officials] have received permission from the school principals to place a porta potty at each field; worked with the parks department to follow [town policies] regarding the appropriate placement of the units along with privacy screening on three sides, and work with the health division regarding permits," the town administrator advised the Board of Selectmen last spring.