Youth team sports participation declined nearly 5 percent between 2008 and 2012, according to a 2014 Wall Street Journal article. The same report said Little League baseball was down 7 percent.
Reflecting the national trend, two local Little Leagues, Parkrose and Lakeside, completed a two-year merger this season.
Because of the merge, and because Little League International is introducing an intermediate division for older players (11-13) where pitching distance and base paths are longer, the new league is looking at possibly selling its Bob St. Aubin Stadium property on East Burnside Street at 135th Avenue.
The shift to the greater pitching and base path distance (from the current 46/60 feet distances respectively to 50 and 70 feet) is driving the conversation at the board level, said Parkside Little League President Melissa Fritz. “You need fields for that,” she said. “Burnside and Falbo Field (Lakeside’s city-owned stadium and home fields off Columbia Boulevard at Northeast 51st Avenue) are too small to even adjust the fences.”
In addition, with the merger, teams are playing at a half-dozen different fields, which forces some parents to choose which of their children’s games to watch. “We’re not getting rid of the field just to get rid of it,” Fritz said. “We want to find someplace where we can bring all the fields together.”
Furthermore, Fritz said safety issues around homeless squatters, drug activity and vandalism at not only the stadium property but also the Lakeside fields compel the league to look for alternatives. “Homeless stole power and water at the Lakeside location,” Fritz said. “At Lakeside alone, we’ve had three break-ins since September. We gave police a key so they can get in there.”
Fritz said the board has been talking about finding land to build a complex of three to four fields in the neighborhood, which would be ideal for their purposes. “We can’t do anything until we find the land,” Fritz said. “We’re trying to think, in the long run, what’s going to benefit the league the most? Having three different fields or a complex?”
It won’t happen overnight. Fritz said the board just began talking more seriously about selling the Burnside property and finding a new location to build a centralized complex while members were inspecting damage after people broke in and held an all-night party on Falbo Field. “Somebody broke into our Lakeside field and literally had a party on the field,” said Fritz. “If we could get someplace where we can condense the fields, we can have baseball and softball all day long.”
The Parkside board has been working with local realtor Wayne Lindquist and Associates, who gave them an estimate of around $600,000 for the Burnside property. “Unless we can find land, we’re going to keep it [Bob St. Aubin Stadium],” Fritz said. “We’re not looking to sell it to make money, we’re looking to the future of what we can do in the area.”