Dead turf and an uneven playing surface at Bowman Field has dashed young baseball players dreams of playing at the minor league ballpark in an all-day tournament known as the "Backyard Brawl," still scheduled for next Saturday, but at an alternative venue.
The reason is an outdoor ice rink where professional hockey and ice skating took place at Bowman Field has caused enough damage for those who organize the annual high school baseball tournament to decide to scuttle attempts to play it where the Williamsport Crosscutters typically field grounders and hit home runs.
"It's great for youth baseball to be played in a minor league ballpark," said Sean McCann, athletic director at Williamsport Area School District, and a tournament organizer.
SUN-GAZETTE FILE PHOTO
The Williamsport Crosscutters play a home game at Bowman Field. Renovations on the field have led the “Backyard Brawl” high school baseball tournament to be relocated.
"We feel that is the best decision we can make at this time," he said of switching the tournament to Robert B. Logue Memorial Field, 774 Foresman St.
The games still will be played on May 11, but after conferring Wednesday with other high school coaches, Mayor Gabriel J. Campana, city Streets and Parks general manager William C. Wright, and R.D. Slingerland, a Cogan Station landscaper, the decision was an easy one.
Teams from Williamsport Area School District, Loyalsock Township School District, South Williamsport School District and Montoursville Area School District simply could not play on a surface that would need to be regraded and have sod added in such short order.
McCann said he understood the disappointment felt by the players and coaches because it may be the only chance for some players to experience the thrill of performing in front of their families and friends at the minor league ballpark.
Scuttling the first spring seasonal event at the historic stadium also didn't sit well with a local historian and baseball writer who recently was inducted into the Bowman Field Hall of Fame.
"It's a rite of spring and a showcase opener for Bowman Field," said Lou Hunsinger Jr., chairman of the Bowman Field Commission, a group that meets regularly to plan events at Bowman Field and makes recommendations to the administration and City Council.
Hunsinger said the commission had little input into whether an ice rink would be constructed on what he considered hallowed baseball turf.
"This is blowback from the hockey fiasco," he said. "It's a shame."
He was glad the tournament will be held, but was upset for the players involved. The tournament will begin at 10 a.m. with South Williamsport taking on Montoursville, followed by games at 12:30 and 4 p.m., before the championship game at about 6:30 to 7 p.m., according to McCann, who encouraged the fans to come out despite the relocation.
"These are some pretty good ballplayers," McCann said of the teams, which have a combined 37-6 record.
Late Wednesday, Campana said that city Solicitor Norman Lubin was planning to file a lawsuit against the Williamsport Outlaws hockey club and a non-profit group to recover losses associated with non-payment of about $55,000 in utility bills and rental fees.
Campana said he hadn't any idea the Outlaws and a non-profit group from Dewitt, N.Y., would default on their obligation to make payments, and said the teams paid a $20,000 bond to be used to repair the field's surface.
He acknowledged the city has lost rent by not holding the tournament at the facility, a couple of hundred dollars, but received assurance from R.D. Slingerland, the landscaper, the surface will be ready in time for the PIAA high school tournament on May 24. The Crosscutters open their season with a home game June 18.
"I can't control Mother Nature," he said. "We had a cold spring and the rink was frozen. I've lost a lot of sleep over this.
"My intentions for quality of life activities has always been sincere. We had a poor spring in regards to rain and cold and I feel bad about that, but certain things a mayor can't control."