Last time we checked in with the local Parkside Little League (Parkrose and Lakeside little leagues combined), we were covering the issues regarding the sale of their beloved long-time home, Bob St. Aubin’s Field on East Burnside Street at 135th Avenue.
Now that the sale of St. Aubin’s field is nearly complete, the league is looking to the future, with opening day on this season being April 7.
The original sale to Seattle-based residential developer Green Canopy, (“Field of Dreams becomes nightmare for neighbors” MCM Aug. 2017), fell through in the fall due to permitting issues and other concerns. Now, according to league president Melissa Fritz, a new pact is going through the closing motions, netting Parkside Little League nearly $1 million for the sale of the dilapidated property where little league baseball was once played without interruption for more than 50 years. The new buyer is Portland developer, Stafford Land Company. “The sale of the Burnside property is going to allow us to build a new facility,” says Jeff Smalley about the proposed new little league fields which are tentatively set to be located at 8678 N.E. Sumner St., on property where Helensview High School sits, which the Parkrose School District owns.
Smalley is the newly installed vice president of the league who spoke to the Memo about the current initiative to replenish the league. “The field dimensions and size requirements have changed, so we’ll have two fields and a batting cage, some covered space and really nice fields which are suited to year-round use.”
They’re envisioning an inaugural season at the new facilities in 2020. Until then, they are still playing at Falbo Field on Columbia Boulevard at Northeast 52nd Avenue at the Native American Youth and Family Center, where the league has been playing most of their games since St. Aubin’s Field fell into disrepair and was ultimately abandoned.
Parkside Little League hopes to ride the momentum of the field sale to increased involvement and hopefully a sports renaissance in Parkrose. “We’re in the middle of our recruitment drive, which will go through [the] end of February,” says Smalley. “We’re trying to recruit a lot of new players after hitting sort of a low last year.”
Fielding only seven teams across all the divisions last year and being in the news more for economic and attendance issues than any on-field results, this drive is instrumental in rebuilding both the league and the community’s interest in it. One of the main ways they hope to do that is by re-engaging the kids, their parents and even their older siblings who are too old for Little League but still play ball.
“We’re also trying to develop some strong relationships with the high school programs so maybe we can get some help from their players with coaching, umpiring—maybe some clinics,” says Smalley of their community outreach, “and in turn, we want to go to their games and support them. So when these kids get to high school, they won’t think anything of helping the Little League they came up in.” This is in addition to them attempting to increase fan, parent and player involvement.
Essentially, if the community begins to care about the recreational sports in our community, it will bleed over into the school sports program and have positive dividends across the board.
Smalley is the owner of Fire + Stone restaurant on Northeast Fremont Street in the Beaumont neighborhood and has two kids of his own in the league. He hosted the first of two in-person signups for the league at his restaurant on Jan. 21, with the second in-person registration happening at Parkrose High School on Jan. 27. While turnout at both events was positive and brisk, more players, parents, volunteers and fans are needed to make the league a success, and the drive will continue through February in hopes of achieving that goal.
Last year they were only able to field two tee-ball teams, two farm teams and two minor league teams, with only one major league team (referring, of course, to the different levels of Little League based on age, not the actual Major League). Smalley says they’re hoping to add at least one full team to each division, except for the major league, which is the oldest division and hardest to field entrants for.
Smalley is one of four new board members to the league, part of a wave of new blood attempting to help breathe fresh life into a long-time staple of athletics in east Portland. “We’re just trying to think things in a new way,” says Smalley. All four of the new board members have kids in the league, and their hope is to create new cycles of involvement that have kids coming through the league, passing it down to their siblings and then to new generations of players. That’s how Parkrose Little League is remembered at its best by people who have volunteered to make it what it is. Recent issues with vagrancy and vandalism at the hallowed St. Aubin’s Field; nationwide decline in interest in baseball and other factors conspired to drive league participation down to where we now find ourselves. “We’re rebuilding. We’re trying to create a resurgence in the league,” says Smalley, “and everything we’ve done is to try and bring back adults and children to the league. To really bring it back from where we found it, which is messy. But we’re going to do our best, learn what doesn’t work this year and try to respond better next year.”
If you missed a chance to sign up for the league in person, you can register children aged 4 to 12 for the league at parksidelittleleague.org. Practices are set to start in March.