LINCOLN SQUARE — A Lincoln Square alderman wants to use tax-increment financing district funds to improve the Winnemac Park baseball field and potentially cover the cost of a proposed dog park.
Amundsen High School’s baseball team uses the fields at Winnemac. Its season started in March, but student have not been able to use the northernmost field because of heavy rain, said JV baseball head coach Craig Newman.
Newman posted photos of the muddy fields online last week, asking Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th), the Park District and even the Chicago Cubs for help.
In response, Vasquez said he’s started exploring how much upgrades would cost and if they could be covered by the Western Avenue (North) Tax Increment Financing district before it expires in 2024.
“I saw pictures of the field, and it’s really disheartening. I want to make sure we can support them as best we can,” Vasquez said. “The estimates that I have are super initial but appear to be very doable, as a far as a turf field are concerned. We’re doing our due diligence still to see what can be done.”
About 40 students play baseball at Amundsen, Newman said. This is the the first regular baseball season for them since the pandemic started. After it rains, it often takes several days for the infield to dry out enough for the team to safely practice or play, Newman said.
“We’re spending more time raking mud and trying to figure out how we can get a field playable than we are actually playing. It’s tough for the kids,” Newman said.
Winnemac Park’s baseball fields were upgraded by the Chicago Cubs Charities Diamond Project in 2018. But water drainage issues have continued to plague the northernmost field the Park District allows Amundsen to use, Newman said. Vasquez said he was told there had been talks to also replace the grass baseball diamond with turf under previous Ald. Patrick J. O’Connor, but it’s not clear what happened to those plans.
“Ideally, you would have a field be sloping into the outfield, so the water drains off. We’ve got a lip, and then you just see all this water that forms like a chain of lakes around the infield,” Newman said.
Muddy baseball fields that aren’t maintained will have divots on the infield that can lead to a player rolling an ankle while running or to a baseball hitting one and popping up, potentially hitting someone in the face, Newman said.
Newman and his team also put up signs around the baseball field asking people to keep dogs off the infield because his team struggles to level out the holes pets make, he said.
A Chicago Public Schools spokesman referred questions about the baseball field to the Park District. The Park District did not respond. Vasquez said he’s also reached out to the Park District but has not heard back.
Beyond the fields, Amundsen’s coaches launched a fundraiser at the start of the season to pay for baseballs, indoor mounds, hitting nets, uniforms and other team necessities. It’s raised more than $16,000 as of Tuesday. The fundraiser will run through May 18.
Some of the equipment will help the players work on their fundamentals without relying on the muddy field or indoor gym, Newman said.
“In the very near term, things like an outside batting cage — if we can’t get access to the gym, which happens often — would allow us to be outside taking swings even if it rains the night before,” Newman said.
But long term, a dry baseball field is still the best way for students to develop their skills, which is why Newman’s pushing for help getting the field upgraded, he said. He said he’d prefer for the city to maintain a grass-and-dirt field, but turf might be a quicker solution.
“Brooks High School has a terrific facility there. And they put a lot of work into it and a lot of fundraising into it. But it’s a college-level, grass-and-dirt field. They have people that can take care of it,” Newman said. “That would be my ideal situation because I’m a grass-and-dirt guy.”
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