Get Ready to Play Ball

softball, baseball groups join forces to build new fields

Tom Giffey

THE CANNON. Eau Claire National Little League teams currently play at DeLong Middle School. They’re working with Eau Claire Fastpitch, a girls softball league, to raise funds to build shared fields at Jeffers Park.
THE CANNON. Eau Claire National Little League teams currently play at DeLong Middle School. They’re working with Eau Claire Fastpitch, a girls softball league, to raise funds to build shared fields at Jeffers Park.

Any coach will tell you that teamwork is necessary on the field. In the case of Jeffers Park, teamwork is necessary to build the field, too.

Youth softball and baseball teams sometimes compete for time on the limited number of ball fields in the Chippewa Valley. However, two youth sports groups – Eau Claire Fastpitch and Eau Claire National Little League – are working to raise at least $300,000 to start building five new ball fields as early as this summer. The groups are collaborating with the Eau Claire Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department to create the fields and other amenities in Jeffers Park, a mostly undeveloped 40-acre plot on Eau Claire’s north side between Jeffers Road, Old Wells Road, and the North Crossing.

“It’s both unique and very beneficial,” said Steve Nick, president of Eau Claire Fastpitch, of the relationship between the youth sports organizations and the city. “It’s more fields and a nicer complex than the city could fund alone or either league could fund alone.”

Currently, Eau Claire National Little League (which includes about 300 boys) plays at DeLong Middle School, while Eau Claire Fastpitch (which includes more than 100 girls) plays home games at Bollinger Fields and elsewhere. But with so many local teams – from T-ball to the university level – seeking somewhere to play, field time is at a premium in Eau Claire. “Both leagues have a need for additional field time for both league play and tournaments,” explained Nick, the father of a 12-year-old softball player. (He is also Eau Claire’s city attorney.) For example, Eau Claire Fastpitch holds an annual tournament that last year drew 80 teams from across the Midwest and Canada. “While we have good success with it – great success with it – one of the things that’s challenging is we have to spread the games across so many fields,” Nick said.

While other softball teams use it, Bollinger Fields is primarily a university facility, so sometimes Eau Claire Fastpitch teams have to play elsewhere. Likewise, the Little League faces the eventuality of finding a new home if DeLong Middle School ever expands into the land now occupied by the ball diamonds.

It’s more fields and a nicer complex than the city could fund alone or either league could fund alone.”
– Steve Nick, president, Eau Claire Fastpitch, on the collaboration between softball and baseball leagues to build five ball fields at Jeffers Park

The leagues’ shared need led to the shared project. In December, the Eau Claire City Council approved a memorandum of understanding between the two leagues and the city that would allow the leagues to build five ball fields: two with grass infields for Little League use, three others with dirt infields that could be used for softball (or T-ball and coach-pitch baseball, which don’t require glass infields like the Little League does). In exchange for the leagues privately raising funds to pay for the fields, fences, bleachers, scoreboards, irrigation system, a concession/restroom building, and a playground, the city will extend utilities to the site, install fences and other equipment, grade the parking lot, and provide landscaping and trees.

While this collaboration between softball and baseball groups is unique in Eau Claire, collaboration among such users and the city isn’t new, said Phil Fieber, the city’s park director. For instance, hockey groups have been partnering with the city for years to support Hobbs Ice Center, and more recently a private group has raised funds for skiing, sledding, and snowboarding facilities at Pinehurst Park. “I think we’re continuing a tradition of partnering as much as possible so the burden isn’t placed entirely on the local taxpayer,” Fieber said. The city has owned Jeffers Park since 1996, but currently all that’s there is a stormwater retention pond for the nearby Gateway Industrial Park and the city brush site. However, the city had identified it as an ideal place for new ball fields, making it an ideal spot for the new collaboration.

In February, the Eau Claire Community Foundation announced the creation of a Jeffers Park Development Fund to raise money for the project. Nick said the leagues already have talked with some potential donors and anticipate a three-year fundraising campaign. They hope to start work on the fields later this summer, with a goal of being able to hear the crack of the bat and the roar of the crowd by 2015.

Interested in helping develop Jeffers Park? The Eau Claire Community Foundation is administering the new Jeffers Park Development Fund. To make a tax-deductible donation, go to www.eccommunityfoundation.org and click on “donate online” or mail a check to 306 S. Barstow St., Suite 104, Eau Claire, WI 54701.

Press and hold the up/down arrows to scroll.