By CLARICE DOYLE
Young feet scramble into position. First base, second base, third base.
The next Randy Johnson takes the mound. Pitches to home.
“Balls in play!” echoes all around the chain-linked baseball diamonds at Powers Park.
Friday’s muggy mid-afternoon was defined by fine-grained dust puffs as runners slid across white base markers and young, sometimes awkward, hands sought that rewarding thud of ball in glove.
The games are on at Claremore’s home base for little league and recreation league baseball.
“We have over a 1,000 kids this year,” said Mike Linzoain, president of the Rogers County Youth Baseball Association. Standing just outside the centralized concession stand with occupied fields on all sides, Linzoain talked about what it takes to keep one of the city’s strongest youth programs going on a seasonal basis.
“It’s mostly volunteer. In fact, we never turn down a volunteer,” Linzoain said with a chuckle.
The RCYBA has 95 teams this year. Each team is made up of 10 to 14 players. Teams meet at the fields to practice throughout the week. They play 15 to 16 games throughout the season.
Powers Park is a busy place.
Last week’s baseball training camp for 5-to-13-year-olds culminated in the third tournament of the season. Twenty-seven teams were scheduled to play.
Linzoain said the first two tournaments of the season attracted 63 and 44 teams each.
“They come from everywhere. Arkansas, Missouri, Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma City, and even some Texas teams.”
Because regular league play is usually free, exact numbers of people in and out of the park during the season has never been tabulated, but “it’s a lot,” according to Mark Rounds, the city’s director of Community Services. Tournaments are ticketed to offset costs for the field crew, umpires and trophies.
Every player pays a participation fee, individuals and sponsors provide team equipment and a volunteer 12-member board oversees the operation and upkeep of the city-owned playing fields.
“We have 12 fields out here that we maintain and operate,” Linzoain said. The RCYBA works with an operating budget of some $100,000. Umpires are paid from this fund, as well as a field crew. The concession stand is contracted out and parents volunteer to work as part of their support for the program.
“One hundred percent of the money goes back into this,” Linzoain said motioning to the park facilities which also include a concession stand and restrooms. “We couldn’t do it without the volunteers. If we had to pay everyone, it would take around $250,000.”
Recent public concern about the upkeep of the Claremore’s parks, specifically the ballfields, brought welcomed news from City Hall.
Rounds and City Manager Troy Powell confirmed that $185,000 has been earmarked in the 2006-2007 city budget for ball park upgrades. The money will be distributed equally ($40,000 each) to Powers Park (the baseball fields) and Pecan Park (the softball fields), with an additional $30,000 to Legion Field.
Another $75,000 of park funds is set aside for beautification, with $65,000 slated to be spent on a new Claremore Lake office. The lake office will be replacing the antiquated WPA building now in use.
Rounds said that with the recent reorganization of city departments, the Parks Department no longer has to focus on maintenance and will instead focus funds and personnel on the beautification and refurbishment of the city’s park system.
In the meantime, a power washer has been purchased for Powers Park. It has already been put to use hosing down the concrete base under the bleachers, the concession stand and the restrooms.
The RCYBA also has hired a custodian to make sure the trash stays picked up, the concession area is clean and paper goods stocked.
Rounds said Claremore’s volunteer-based youth programs are what makes the sports programs throughout the city work.
“We just provide the facilities,” he said. “They are responsible for the operation and the upkeep.
“It is a good partnership.”