The West Brownsville Little League Park on Cottonwood Drive has been around since the 1960s.
“Our park has been not up to par for quite a while,” said Dino X. Chavez, president of the WBLL. “It satisfied the basic needs of being a baseball park, and it had a couple of fields that served their purpose. But it needed attention to look better and to be on par with some of the other parks (throughout the Rio Grande Valley).”
The park is now in the finishing stages of a $1 million overhaul — Chavez says it is about “95 percent done” — spearheaded by WBLL baseball vice president Marc Lucio and Sergio Zarate, the vice president of the Challenger Division of the WBLL, the special needs division.
The league raised money through fundraisers, private vendors, grants and matching funds from the city of Brownsville.
The three fields will feature the same artificial turf surface, a new drainage system and several ADA-accessible features, including curb ramps for wheelchairs and other assistive devices, and bathrooms painted in neutral colors for those on the autism spectrum.
The third field was built out of a segment of the park’s rear parking lot, which used to be a temporary dumping site for the city’s caliche — limestone deposits and old construction materials — and was a parking lot for city vehicles.
“We said, first of all, it’s an eyesore that the city is using this as a staging area,” Chavez said. “So what if we just built something with that corner area? It’s not big enough for a full-size field, but it’s exactly the right size for a T-ball field.”
The WBLL president said he was inspired by a field at Oliveira Park, near Brownsville Pace High School, that some children used to use during their T-ball days.
The new field is specially designed both for T-ball and for the Challenger Division for special needs children, to provide them an opportunity to play on a field optimized for safety and with intimate dimensions for parents and fans.
“Our vision is not to have it as a one-time thing,” Chavez said. “We’re going to play baseball and have these kids entertained with some soccer or kickball, or any kind of activities all year long.”
In other youth baseball news, Laguna Madre Little League president Raul Loera Jr. announced Thursday that the Port Isabel-based league voted unanimously to cancel its 2020 baseball season.
Families will be refunded their registration fees, and Loera said he canceled the uniform orders for the league in time to be processed refunds for the gear, which is no longer necessary due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
Other leagues are likely to follow suit.
The Brownsville Sports Park Little League, which has the benefit of having some of its costs covered by the city’s parks and recreation department, also is weighing the cancelation of its season, president Raul V. Martinez said.
“Mainly because our fields are run by Brownsville Sports Park,” Martinez said. “In speaking with (BSP director Ray Arellano), he does not even have a definitive date for which we would be able to use those fields. So we’ll have to weigh, is it worth being able to come in in August and use the fields?”
In the event that baseball could be played in the fall, it would be complicated by a confluence of factors — navigating field availability with men’s leagues, participation in middle school baseball, football and basketball, and the costs.
Martinez is an umpire who worked at the 2017 Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa. He is also the assistant to David Tobias, the District 24 Little League administrator who is relaying information from Little League International’s higher-ups to local coaches and officials.
Tobias will be holding an emergency meeting next week with all of the league presidents under his jurisdiction to determine what their next steps will be.
If and when play does resume, it could look different in several ways. Among the suggested safety measures for a return to play would be that batters and catchers would be required to wear masks covering their nose and mouth along with their usual helmets. The home plate umpire would stand behind the pitcher to call balls and strikes, and also wear a mask. First- and third-base coaches boxes would be moved back, and those coaches would be required to don masks.
“Little League is encouraging that we get our players back on the field some time in 2020,” Martinez said. “We just don’t know when, and that’s the big question mark.”