PALMETTO -- Palmetto Little League can finally play ball again -- on its very own fields.
A dedication ceremony of the new Little League baseball fields at Blackstone Park took place Monday evening -- ending several years of fallen plans to replace the field. The league's former ballfields were eliminated after Palmetto city officials sold the land to the Manatee County School Board for construction of Palmetto Elementary School at 1540 10th St. W., Palmetto.
The new $3.4 million project at 2112 14th Ave. W,, Palmetto, includes three lighted regulation Little League fields with covered dugouts and bleachers, a concession/restroom/pressbox facility and batting cages.
A crowd of parents and Little League players attended the 6:30 p.m. ceremony a half-hour before the inaugural game between Palmetto Little League's Snead Island Boatworks and Aldrich Flooring from Buffalo Creek Little League. It was the Palmetto Little League's final game of the spring season.
For parents such as Betsy Sanders, the ceremony brought an end to a long era of waiting.
"I thought it was the wind that was making my eyes tear
but I'm thinking 'You know, maybe it's a little of mixed emotions here,'" the 51-year-old mail carrier said with a smile. "I'm really proud to see it come to fruition."
Sanders' 10-year-old son, Jack, stood nearby dressed in a bright blue uniform with the words Tim Lester International Realty on the front. He's been involved with the Palmetto Little League since his tee ball days.
"It's pretty cool that I get to play on the new fields," Jack said.
A crowd of parents sat on two bleachers watching the game. Little League players not playing Monday evening clung to the tall chainlink fence and watched the game unfold. A few people enjoyed hot dogs and refreshments from the concession stand.
Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources Director Charlie Hunsicker said he felt great.
"When you start a project like this, you wonder if you can meet your goals -- if you can hit the targets for completion and, of course, tonight is the resolution of all of those concerns," he said.
Nick Azzara, information outreach coordinator for Manatee County, said the county helped fast-track building the new fields in late 2011 with financial assistance from Palmetto and officials with Pirates Charities, an organization and philanthropic arm of the Pittsburg Pirates. Palmetto taxpayers contributed $800,000 and $75,000 came from a grant from Pirates Charities.
"The kids in Palmetto had gone two full years without fields and had to play all away games," Azzara said over the phone Monday afternoon.
According to Azzara, the project was completed against great odds.
"Our county commissioners took it over at a time that was part of the Great Recession... budgets were shrunken all over the place," he said.
Nikki Burns, 30, stood and watched her son, Logan Barfield, play. The medical secretary said she thought the field looks awesome.
"They took their time but made sure it was done right," she said.
As he sat on a folding chair, 48-year-old Jeff Wagner watched his 11-year-old son, Matthew Wagner, play at the new fields. During the gap without official fields, the father of three said his children (two sons and a daughter) have had to play on fields usually used for adult softball and church leagues.
"It's great," he said. "For them to have a place to call their own is wonderful."
Amaris Castillo, Law Enforcement/Island Reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. You can follow her on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.