Penn Field taking shape

Seven years in the making, the new Little League field may be ready for action by season’s end.

A home plate view of the diamond at Penn Field. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

After a seven-year odyssey, Martha’s Vineyard Little League (MVLL) is preparing to christen its new playing field.

Penn Field will be in play for the 2015 season, and, just possibly, will be available for play at the end of the current Little League season, according to Phil Regan of Hutker Architects, who describes himself as the “coach” for the project. Mr. Regan is also a director of MVLL.

The story of Penn Field serves as a template for active communities pitching in to create their own resources. “Little League is a 100 percent volunteer organization from the national president to the umpires who work the Island games,” Mr. Regan said this week. “I can’t express how much help in donations of money, time, and labor are represented in this field.”

A completed irrigation system is in place and dugouts are under construction now. Next week, a donated flagpole and scoreboard will arrive from off Island. The field behind the waste water treatment plant off Pennsylvania Ave. in Oak Bluffs is ready to receive its mantel of infield dirt, now stored on the site.

A parking area has been established and potential donors identified who may provide funds for the construction of bleachers and for field maintenance equipment, Mr. Regan said. In addition to putting his architect’s eye to planning and designing Penn Field, Mr. Regan coaches the Red Sox, his twin sons’ major league champion Little League team.

Mr. Regan has a passion for the game as a former Island high school player, an assistant coach at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School team for 10 years and a travel team coach. His passion for baseball has served this project well as it has wound a tortuous path since 2008.

Seven years ago, money and location would be the principal stumbling blocks. “We had raised $200,000 ourselves, but I believed we would need $300,000,” Mr. Regan said this week in his office at Hutker Architects on Beach Road in Vineyard Haven.

The group’s original plan in 2008 was to site the new field at Veira Park where the Little League field exists. A long, occasionally contentious series of objections by neighborhood residents nixed the idea. The planning group was awarded its current site by the town of Oak Bluffs.

So far, so good. The planning group spent $50,000 of their $200,000 pot clearing the actual ball field area. But the field was inaccessible except by crossing waste water plant property, not a long-term option.

“We had a “paper” road in from the other side,” Mr. Regan said. “That is, the road was granted on paper but was wooded and grown over. John Keene (John Keene Excavation, West Tisbury) cleared the road as a donation.

“There was not an inch of topsoil anywhere on the site, so we knew we’d have to bring that in,” he said, a $75,000 expense, further dwindling the construction pot to $75,000.

Then the baseball gods showed up. The group had been able to secure some funding from Oak Bluffs from state funds provided to municipalities under the new Community Preservation Act (CPA) law. Funds are granted to individual town Community Preservation committees. However, the state broadened the CPA law in 2012 to allow neighboring towns to use CPA funds for regional projects, an important lifeline for Island Little League, the largest youth organization on the Island with up to 350 kids participating annually.

“We were able to raise $135,00 in CPA funds from Edgartown ($50,000), Oak Bluffs ($50,000), west Tisbury ($25,000) and Tisbury ($10,000),” Mr. Regan said. Those funds, along with donations of time and labor gave Penn Field life.

“Patrick Burke donated the irrigation system, The Martha’s Vineyard Permanent Endowment Fund, Farm Neck Golf Course, The Vineyard Golf Club, the town of Oak Bluffs, Walter Smith, and NSTAR have made funding or labor contributions,” Mr. Regan said. Parents also provide a lively and varied menu at a well-stocked food stand during games. “The ability to provide two playing fields (Veira Park and Penn Field) also means we can host tournaments on Island rather than always incurring the expense of traveling off Island,” Mr. Regan noted.

Despite status as the Island’s largest youth organization, Little League was not widely known. “We were largely invisible; we didn’t do much publicly,” Mr. Regan said, noting that Island Little League has reinstated its Opening Day parade in Oak Bluffs as a way for residents to understand the scope of Little League on-Island. The parade is coming up this Saturday, May 3, starting at 10 am.

Little League funding has traditionally meant that coaches reach for their own checkbooks to underwrite equipment — and pizza — a tradition that likely will continue. “We’re going to need money forever,” Mr. Regan said. “Kids are always growing and we get new kids every year. The cost of equipment and constant field maintenance is always ongoing.”

Now it’s time to Play Ball!