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La Azteca Players Say ‘Horrible’ Washington Park Field Conditions Pose An Injury Risk

Each amateur baseball team pays the league $1,500, which goes toward permits to play in the park. But the fields are in bad shape and it's hurting their game, players say.

Puerto Rico pitcher Louie Colon winds up during a July 28 La Azteca league game at Washington Park.
Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago
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WASHINGTON PARK — Players and officials with La Azteca amateur baseball league are pushing the Chicago Park District to better maintain its fields at Washington Park, home to a majority of their games.

Each team in the 20-team league pays a $1,500 fee to join. That money largely goes to pay for athletic event permits, multiple players said, so it’s troublesome that maintenance isn’t up to the teams’ needs.

A permit for smaller events like La Azteca’s games — with up to 900 people in attendance — ranges from $455 to nearly $3,600.

For as much money as the league pays, field conditions could be a lot better, Red Sox second baseman and outfielder Darius Sheard said.

“It’s an injury risk, and it’s taking the competitiveness out of the game,” he said. “Guys who normally throw strikes on a good mound, they can’t throw strikes out here.”

Pitchers’ mounds are often short and uneven, Red Sox pitcher Nick Armijo said. Without much of an incline or a consistent place to push off from, a pitcher’s mechanics can be ruined.

Baseball isn’t only about pitching, so games aren’t being won or lost because of mound conditions, he said. Regardless, the fields need to be better cared for.

“Right away, as you step on the mound, you’re at a disadvantage,” Armijo said.

Teams will sometimes show up to flooded fields and overgrown grass as well, said Nestor Luevano, who plays for the Reds. Their only option if they want to play that day is to do the groundskeeping themselves.

“We don’t have a problem helping, but [the Park District] should take on the majority” of the maintenance, Luevano said.

Luevano said he has played at Washington, Marquette and Ogden parks during his 20-year La Azteca career. All of them have been “horrible.”

The lone exception? Baseball Alley in Berwyn, the league’s only consistent venue not run by the park district.

“Berwyn is beautiful,” Luevano said. “There’s a fence, the fields are maintained and they drain better than they do here.”

The subpar field conditions at Washington Park mean players “don’t perform their best, how they’re supposed to and want to perform,” league vice president Jonathan Velasquez said.

For now, league representatives will continue making their concerns heard, as they did at a recent park district meeting.

The issues the league brought up are not unique to Washington Park, Parks District commissioner M. Laird Koldyke said. But he told Red Barons manager Chappell Brown the district would take note of the league’s concerns.

“With the record amount of rain we got, very few parks in our system didn’t suffer from drainage [issues], but hopefully we can come up with some solutions,” Koldyke said at the July 10 meeting.

La Azteca players and officials hope airing these grievances will encourage officials to make a change, but understand they can’t just up and leave in protest if things stay the same.

“We’ve just got to tough it out at Washington [Park], because we don’t know many parks around like that,” Velasquez said. “Washington Park has been our main field the whole time. It just needs a little work.”

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