To the editor:
I am delighted that our mayor and our city officials have secured a major grant to refurbish Palmer Cove Park. Among the several designs and proposals under consideration is a plan to repurpose the baseball field for other types or levels of baseball. I’m writing today as spokesperson for a rapidly growing group of Salem residents who are increasingly alarmed at the deleterious effect that any of these plans would undoubtedly have on Salem school baseball, both at Salem High School and at Salem Academy Charter School.
Accordingly, we strongly suggest that the governing city entities consider basic supply-and-demand principles applied to our baseball programs as they choose the final plan. This analysis yields the following facts:
Softball: Salem already has three softball fields that are of high school quality and regulation. Demands for softball at all levels is being met by this supply.
Little League: The city has done a commendable job of revamping all Little League fields in recent years. Supply is 100% meeting demand. According to a representative of Salem Little League, Salem is in need of zero additional fields.
Conclusion: Installing a non-high school level baseball field at Palmer Cove would be both superfluous and financially wasteful.
High School baseball: Salem already has a shortage of practice and game space for high school level (and higher) baseball. Three teams — Salem High School varsity, junior varsity and the Salem Academy Charter School varsity — currently share the only two existing fields for both practice and games, Palmer Cove and Gallows Hill. Academy players can walk down Congress Street to utilize Palmer Cove, while Salem High teams can walk or drive to Gallows Hill or Palmer Cove.
Palmer Cove has historically been the game venue but it has fallen into neglect in recent years. It has everything needed to be a first-class community park and full-field baseball venue: location, field dimension, batting cage, lights, bleachers, sideline space for teams, a defunct tennis court to be restored or repurposed (basketball, pickleball) for public use (including Saltonstall School) and even a harbor view! There is also a basketball court with lights, room for another or even a third as noted above, and a community garden. The outfield has also been an asset to Salem Youth Soccer in past years. While the current non-renovated field has also been a summer home to local adult softball players, there is every reason to believe that our adult softball community will enjoy the upgraded field even more.
Moving the teams to Irzyk Park is not the solution. Irzyk Park doesn’t meet the standards for a varsity field because it violates size regulations, contains risks, and it is inconvenient to access. Left field is too short for regulation. The distance between the plate/backstop are not acceptable, and the pitching mound dimensions don’t meet regulations. Left fielders wearing cleats would have to chase foul balls onto an abutting basketball court. Irzyk also poses a major inconvenience for the kids who don’t have cars due to the three mile distance from the high school.
The Salem High varsity team has limited use of the Salem State University’s baseball field, but the Salem State field is only available to the high school after the SSU team concludes its season and tournament. The high school baseball season is already more than half over by that date. Also, after the SSU season concludes, an AAU team has first rights before Salem High can have access, because AAU pays a fee to the college for field usage. In fact, Salem High varsity has been required to schedule additional away games for the beginning of the season due to the limited fields. You just can’t run a baseball program that way. It is sub-standard. And it is unfortunate for both parents and local fans who are unable to travel to away games. The team’s transportation to additional away games can also drive up the cost burden because it adds to the bus contract.
One current proposal is to renovate Gallows Hill and make it the primary field for the high school teams. While the location is great, Gallows Hill will never be a good primary shared field due to its chronic flooding situation.
The field is at the bottom of a steep hill, and the diamond regularly becomes a quagmire after a rainstorm. So both game days and practice days would be lost to inclement weather. Practice space, sure.
But not a reliable game space, especially in the abbreviated and often weather-affected spring high school season. Plus, one field can’t effectively serve three teams, no matter how hard they try to share it.
So, for high school (and higher level) baseball, both practice and game field supply is simply not meeting demand. And a potential landmark solution is right there for the remaking! Not only would a refurbished and enhanced Palmer Cove field solve our need for baseball game space, it would obviate the need for costly transportation and leasing of out-of-town practice and competition space. Ours is one of the few high schools north of Boston that doesn’t have a contiguous baseball field. We can’t remedy that unfortunate situation, but we can give our players a first-rate, readily accessible venue, in our own town, and in the process enhance a beautiful local park and its neighborhood. We can renovate a proven, existing baseball space that we can actually rent to other teams, and towns, and leagues (for higher level ball in summer) who need space. Our kids can have first-rate game space in perpetuity, and we can draw others to our field of dreams. If you build it, they will come!
City councilor at-large