The Andover City Council could not agree with the Andover Baseball Association’s request to lock gates at the Andover Station North ball fields.
“It’s a public amenity, not a baseball association amenity,” Mayor Julie Trude said.
The council said city staff could continue the current practice of locking the gates in the early spring when the ball fields are not ready to be used by anyone.
Furthermore, the council agreed that it made sense for city staff to use their own discretion to lock the gates to the fields just before tournaments or games.
But an all-out closing of the three ball fields to the general public during the whole baseball season is off the table.
The association is concerned that kids and adults coming in to use the fields and the pitching mound in particular could cause damage to the point that playing surfaces would be poor quality for an in-house game or tournament that draws teams from outside Andover.
Patti Murnane, Andover Baseball Association President, told the Andover Park and Recreation Commission on March 16 that the association spent over $4,500 in pitching mound and home plate covers last year to protect these areas when it rains or snows.
The association is budgeting more than $5,000 for more covers this season and will be hiring a consultant to explore different pitching mound materials that could be more durable for the Andover Station North ball fields, one of the community’s premier facilities for hosting tournaments.
This season the association is also planning to pay for upgraded dugouts complete with steel roofs at Andover Station North.
Last season, the covers were removed more than once and one of them was torn. Each cover costs about $1,700, Murnane said.
She said they also know people have run their dogs around the fields because they have found dog waste.
“Locking the fields will help deter this and protect the investment ABA puts into these fields,” Murnane wrote in a letter to the city.
The parks commission supported the request as long as there was information posted on why the gates were being locked and that there are other open fields nearby.
Parks commission vice chairperson Jim Lindahl said the community should be protecting the investments it has made in making Andover Station North a premier baseball facility.
“We love to have our fields open for the general public and youth to participate in, but we have a significant number of fields around there,” he said.
Lions Park and Hills of Bunker Lake West were options Lindahl pointed out, but Council Member Sheri Bukkila said those would only be good alternatives for those that can drive.
While thankful for the investments the baseball association makes into the fields, Council Member Jim Goodrich did not see enough incidents to justify locking the gates throughout the regular season.
“I can’t get there to close the public park from pick-up games where half a dozen kids want to go there on a Saturday afternoon and play touch football or they want to launch a Frisbee really far,” he said.
Trude said the council in 2011 was faced with the same debate of whether to limit access to Andover Station North because of accusations that people were hitting balls against the fence during batting practice and causing damage. The council chose to keep the gates open.
City Engineer and Public Works Superintendent David Berkowitz played baseball. He said it’s not unusual for someone to pitch from the front of a mound during batting practice, but this causes ruts that a pitcher’s foot could land in and cause an injury. The association has equipment to keep on top of maintenance, which the general public does not have. If someone removes a cover from the mound and does not replace it, this can cause even more extensive damage, he said.
Council Member Val Holthus suggested closing the fields just before games, but not the full season during the week. This is what the council settled on.
“I want to make sure that the fields stay safe for those players and I don’t want (the association) to just throw money away and have it ruined by just anyone going in there and doing what they want with the fields,” she said. “I’m trying to see what would be a good compromise, both for the association and the neighborhood kids.”