PALMETTO -- Although the North River American Little League registered more players this season than it did in recent years, it still does not have the appropriate ball fields to play on.
Derek Goforth, the league’s president, said 180 players registered this season, a turnout of about 40 more than the past two years.
“There’s a sense of hope,” Goforth said.
The construction of new fields has been an ongoing discussion for about three years, Manatee County Administrator Ed Hunzeker said.
Construction of the fields could cost more than $2 million, but county commissioners have not appropriated any money for fields, given that the county has not surveyed or designed anything for new fields, Hunzeker said.
The fields where the league used to play off 10th Street West are now the grounds of the new Palmetto Elementary School.
Until new fields are constructed, North River American Little League is using adult baseball fields at Blackstone Park in north Palmetto.
The city plans to use $800,000 from the sale of the old fields for the construction of new fields at Blackstone Park, Palmetto Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant said.
“We’ll build whatever we can with the $800,000, but I don’t know what we’ll do after that,” Hunzeker said.
County and city officials agreed during a meeting this week that the county will use the city’s funds to build three ball fields and that the county will manage them, Groover Bryant said.
Cindy Turner, the county’s park and recreations director, said that earlier this week she provided Goforth a blueprint of Manatee East Little League’s concession stand and bathrooms so that he had an idea of what those facilities may look like at Blackstone Park.
“In the past three years, it hasn’t gotten to this point,” Goforth said. “We feel like we are finally getting somewhere.”
Palmetto’s mayor said she hopes construction for the fields starts as soon as possible, but that the city cannot spend more than the $800,000.
“I can’t commit funds that we don’t have,” Groover Bryant said. “I couldn’t give up a police officer or a public works person because it wouldn’t be correct.”
She said money could become available after the Manatee County School District turns over to the city a property across from the old Palmetto Elementary School grounds.
Palmetto would then sell that land and forward the money for the construction of the fields. The mayor said she did not know much money could be obtained from the transaction.
Funds could also be obtained through donations from professional baseball teams, she said.
Groover Bryant said it is appropriate that the county takes the reins of the project.
“The county builds baseball fields all the time,” she said. “The city doesn’t have the experience to do this.”
Groover Bryant said the county is also the best to lead the project since the league serves children from different parts of the county, not just Palmetto.
For three years, the 18-team league has been using the adult fields at Blackstone Park, Goforth said. Before losing the grounds to the new elementary school, the league registered around 275 children per season, he said.
“There’s a great need for us to get appropriate fields,” Goforth said. “Every other Little League in the county has the appropriate facilities; it’s something our kids deserve to enjoy, too.”
He said the sport helps keep the children active and out of trouble. Opening day for this season is Feb. 25.
“I think it’ll make a big difference when we can drive by and see work actually being done,” he said.