In the world of Houston Sports, the state of adult baseball needs to be addressed. Let’s illustrate why the city has been taking it on the chin.
One of Houston Sports’ best kept secrets
With all of the tired talk of professional baseball and cheating, the wonderful city of Houston features a secret: over a thousand competitive adult baseball players, like myself, compete mainly throughout the city’s park system, paying for their own league fees and wood bats along the way. They play in the summer heat like the Colt .45s of old, a treasured moment in Houston Sports‘ history.
There is a purity to them because they pay to play a game that they love, often with hustle and grittiness that even Craig Biggio might approve of. This is their story. But, first, I’d like to tell you mine.
On Sunday, while playing my favorite position, center field, I took a baseball to the jaw after a bad hop on a hard-hit grounder up the middle at Trotter Park, about eight miles south of George Bush Intercontinental Airport. I had to keep the ball in front of me to help my team. Luckily, I did. And luckily, the umpire let me stay in the game, though I was clutching my jaw for several minutes in between pitches in the moments that followed.
But a day later, I still have a pretty significant headache and am still hearing ringing in my ears as well as a clicking sound when I move my jaw. I am feeling the inflammation start to set in. I’m sure I’m fine. I’ve dealt with much worse.
Years ago, a bad hop on another city field bent a finger. That time I went to the ER. Luckily, the finger is straight and functional again. However, many players have similar stories.
Houston, known as a football town, has one of the largest, most passionate adult baseball populations in the United States. These guys, by and large, are the salt of the earth.
Houston Sports fans, adult baseball brings people in Greater Houston from all walks of life together to participate in a peaceable activity that promotes physical fitness and builds community. I know. I’m sure I’ve met over a hundred of these players over the years, personally.
The state of the city’s adult baseball parks
Unfortunately, the Houston parks department simply does not invest in creating and maintaining top-notch leveled, safe playing surfaces for adult baseball players—think the basic quality of even a high school field featuring foul lines separated by a recommended 60-foot-distance from all off-field obstructions—and has shown little to no initiative to install higher, safer lights for night games at many city adult baseball parks. Many players are forced to make dangerous plays with low hanging cost-cutter lighting systems that often cause athletes to temporarily lose sight of the ball.
In addition to uneven ground, and the occasional rock in the grass, some city fields that adult players routinely sprint on while tracking the baseball with their eyes feature craters, dips, and tire tracks older than kids who are currently in high school. Moreover, in some cases, trees and fauna along the perimeters of these city adult baseball parks often appear unkempt, at times overhanging the field of play as well as dangerously poking through chain-link fencing near players’ eye levels.
Additionally, some adult baseball fields belonging to the city contain light poles within the field of play which outfielders have to contend with while running down deep drives that don’t quite leave the yard. And every once in a while, these athletes play games on fields in weeds that are already knee-high.
I don’t want the parks department to receive a larger budget from the city, because I don’t think that’s a solution. And I don’t want a dollar to be taken away from education or someone in need that the city of Houston might serve in another capacity.
The park department’s budget simply needs to be readdressed and overhauled. However, as an interim solution, the parks department could ease legal restrictions, allowing adult baseball leagues to contract companies on their own dime to provide city fields with needed upgrades and maintenance. To that end, even more economically from a do-it-yourself standpoint, some adult baseball players are professional engineers, builders, and landscapers by day, desiring a safer, higher quality playing experience, a number of whom would volunteer their services free-of-charge.
Additionally, the parks department could reach out to philanthropists willing to revitalize the adult baseball fields with new, leveled playing surfaces, adult-sized fencing, and tall enough lighting systems. Think of it: Houston could one day be considered an adult baseball paradise with a plethora of revamped parks that people from all over the country desire to utilize, infusing tourism dollars into the local economy.
Houston Sports fans, did you know, many adult players flock to Florida and Arizona every year not just to watch their favorite major league teams in Spring Training, but to play in tournaments on nice fields? So, why not Houston?
Thoughts on a helping hand
An important caveat requires consideration: asking for outside funding should be handled tactfully. For instance, when Major League Baseball has become financially involved in making over several city fields in the Houston area in the past that both adults and older youth utilize, some local adult baseball league personnel found access to those fields to become increasingly exclusionary.
By no means do I think the adult players fault MLB, who might be unaware. But if MLB spearheaded a nationwide initiative to fund safer fields for adults to play on, that would be welcome, revolutionary change which is needed for Houston Sports. After all, adult players are great customers. Many adult players love attending major league games, not necessarily to cheer on a Houston Sports team, but to take in the finer nuances of the game they love being played at the highest level—similarly to how fans of Richard Wagner’s musicianship appreciate a professional orchestra replicating his scores at the Wortham Center.
But the sad thing about all of this in America’s fourth-largest city—and fifth-largest metro—is that many of the adult ballplayers of Houston are playing at such a high level and are arguably cheated with less-than-safe adult-sized baseball fields on which to compete. This creates a massive disadvantage in the realm of Houston Sports.
The player demand simply outweighs the supply of fields. Nevertheless, the permit revenue keeps streaming in for the city from all of those adult players’ league fees. And for the few city fields kept in acceptable shape with that generated revenue, sometimes adults have a better shot at playing in a major league ballpark—like New Yorker Scott Green’s organization, Play at the Plate, can offer—than on one of the park department’s prized possessions, such as the field in Memorial Park. Adult players are prohibited from playing at Memorial Park’s one adult-sized baseball field, which is reserved for youth and underutilized.
Voicing their vision for Memorial Park’s makeover
In general, the city of Houston does not allow adults to practice at fields that are deemed grade “A” facilities. This raises an imperative, decades-old question: why are the fields that citizens pay for park permits to play on not all maintained to be grade “A” facilities in the first place? After all, citizen safety should always come first—not just in games, but during practices.
Meanwhile, pet projects exist such as the multi-million dollar renovations at Memorial Park, a plan including tiny baseball fields too small for serious adult players to use safely. And to this day, no adult-sized baseball fields are actually allowed to be utilized by adults at Memorial Park—formerly Camp Logan, a place with a storied history of training army soldiers for service in WWI.
When Camp Logan ceased military operations, Memorial Park received its current name, honoring the 30,000-plus soldiers stationed there. Though it is possible the term, Memorial, may have also been chosen because John Logan, the camp’s namesake, played a key role in the creation of what would ultimately become Memorial Day. Nonetheless, without question, Memorial Park celebrates and salutes American military service.
At present, Houston’s adult baseball population does contain some U.S. military veterans, including two of my own teammates. And many adult players are related to native Houstonians who served in the past—such as my amazing late grandfather, D-Day veteran, John David Conlon.
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From all accounts, it appears that the various presidents of the adult baseball leagues representing this mass of players are never, to rarely, consulted by the parks department to see what should be done for the adult baseball demographic going forward as Houston grows and plans new athletic fields. Many Greater Houston ballplayers feel that the city should disavow the current Memorial Park tiny field complex plan and create at least one to four ball fields with fences large enough for adult use in the new phases of Memorial Park.
The city could be generating extra revenue off of paid parking from these adult players, or even from a complex within Memorial Park capable of hosting national adult baseball tournaments. Additionally, these ballplayers live all across town and would benefit from a safe, centralized multi-field facility within the 610 loop.
At the end of the day, when the low lights turn on, many of these players do their best to take the field to enjoy the game they love. Though they worry about their safety and feel that the parks department’s apparent lack of prioritization is an example of out-of-touch bureaucracy.