If you've been by Gerrard Park lately, you might have noticed a large mound of dirt piled up in the parking lot as well as on several diamonds at the baseball and softball complex.
As previously reported by The Columbus Telegram, Gerrard is receiving somewhat of a facelift thanks to a grant to the Columbus Baseball Association by Royals Charities Royalty Fields Program.
Repairs are being made to some of the fences and infield compound dirt is being laid thanks to the $15,000 grant provided by the charitable foundation of the Kansas City Royals.
For the CBA, a benevolent society looking after the needs of the game in Columbus, this is ideally the first step toward even more improvement in the area.
"We exist to maintain the game in Columbus and help it grow," Tom Meays, president of the CBA said during a meeting at The Telegram.
"We look after the maintenance of the fields around town and help those with some kind of hardship if they're unable to afford to play."
The CBA has been in existence for more than four decades. Just as Meays said, some of the work of the association has included replacing the dirt at Pawnee Park Field when the infield wears down, installing a sprinkler system and assisting those who have a financial hardship with the means to pay the entry fee for various Columbus leagues.
Its latest project was raising funds for the necessary work at Gerrard. In addition to the $15,000 donated by Royals Charities, the CBA also received $20,000 from the American Charities Foundation and $2,500 from the Columbus Area Future Fund.
Some assistance is still needed from the city, but by reaching out for nearly $40,000, the CBA helped greatly reduce the $60,000 planned to pour into the project.
What the CBA would like to do next is offer any kind of assistance for more fields, perhaps on land by the new Columbus High School, if the school is interested.
"Pawnee Park is worn out. There’s seniors Legion baseball, junior Legion baseball, a varsity team, a reserve team, Blues, Reds and all of them use that for a practice field and a game field," Meays said.
"We’ve spent probably $50,000 just on field compound. They wear it out, we put it back on. They wear it out, we put it back on."
Meays pointed out that while Pawnee Park Field is more than adequate, it's also the only field in town. While the constant use and 100 games or more per year is one concern, an inability to attract other leagues or tournaments to Columbus is another.
For a city of nearly 25,000, Columbus is at a big disadvantage in facilities.
For the tournaments that are played in town, they generally only consist of four teams or have to be played across two separate weekends.
And that's not to mention the lack of a practice field. Practices are limited due to overlapping schedules for the same field or due to other events on the track or the football field.
There are, of course, other large fields in town, but none large enough for sanctioned high school games or practices.
The Columbus High baseball program began in 1999, junior varsity was added a year later and reserves in 2010.
There are three youth programs that begin at 8 years old that funnel players on to CHS varsity years later. However, with limited facilities, the opportunities to play are greatly reduced once players reach varsity age.
Additionally, Columbus is unable to field a town team for those in their 20s and 30s because of a lack of a second field. If Central Community College ever considered a baseball program, and Athletic Director Jack Gutierrez has mentioned its a possibility, building more regulation-size baseball fields would only help in making that possible.
But Meays also pointed out there are more than just baseball benefits. The economic impact to Columbus of families traveling to play at more fields could mean hotel rooms, restaurant bills and shopping in between games.
The annual fundraising drive for the CBA begins very soon. If contacted by the association, Meays would appreciate any assistance Columbus residents could offer in continuing the good work of the CBA and potentially helping the game evolve to a new era in Columbus.
"We can’t bring the tournaments we want because we don’t have enough fields," he said. "There’s leagues out there maybe we could become a member of. There’s teams that are in Omaha for youth tournaments during the College World Series. Maybe we could pull some of them to Columbus to play.
"We're here to help realize whatever baseball goals the community may have, keep it strong, keep it growing."
Nate Tenopir is the sports editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org