Members of South Side High School’s varsity baseball team and their parents have called on the Rockville Centre School District and village officials to upgrade their home field and bolster the squad’s coaching staff. Despite playing with a “disadvantage,” parents said, the Cyclones had a 9-4-1 record at press time and were eyeing a playoff berth.
Barasch Field, which is maintained by the village, was not playable at the start of the 2018 season, parents and players noted, spurring them this winter to make sure the same thing didn’t happen this year.
Cyclones junior Daniel Kelleher wrote in a February email to the Board of Education that it was “upsetting” last year that his team had to play its scrimmages at away fields, as well as the first two series, against MacArthur High School in Levittown and Mepham High in Bellmore, both of which were supposed to include home games. Kelleher noted the advantage of home games, mentioning the student fans from those schools who came to cheer on their squads.
“I am on the South Side soccer team and that never has happened,” Kelleher wrote about the field not being ready. “Please help our baseball team this season by fixing our [field].”
Village spokeswoman Julie Scully noted the location of Barasch Field, on South Park Avenue, at the bank of Mill River. “When it rains, the field gets muddier sooner and stays muddier longer than it would if the field were located somewhere else,” Scully told the Herald. “That being said, the village department works diligently to improve and maintain its parks.”
Mayor Francis X. Murray, who has touted his administration’s dedication to improving Rockville Centre’s fields during his nine years in office, said the village resodded Barasch’s infield and replaced its pitcher’s mound three years ago, and spent $70,000 this year to put in a new backstop and fencing around the dugouts.
Kelleher’s email was one of about eight sent to Schools Superintendent Dr. William Johnson and the Board of Education in late February and early March, before the season began, calling for field upgrades. Another South Side player, who could not be identified at press time, wrote in an email that opposing players have commented that the infield is like concrete. Other concerns, the player noted, include the downward slope of the outfield from the third-base to first-base side and the softball diamond beyond left field that dips down and is “hard as a rock.”
In addition, the player wrote, because there is no outfield fence, “our high school can never be a home run leader in the league.” Scully noted last month that the village ordered a portable fence. Players have been putting up the fence before their games and taking it down afterward, parents said.
“We’ve seen every single high school field that you could possibly think of,” said Erin O’Sullivan, whose son, junior Sean Kelly, plays on the team. “We came to realize that the condition of our high school field was subpar to everybody else. It really was not up to high school caliber.”
The parents organized and conducted a survey of neighboring schools’ fields, and presented the findings to district and village officials during a preseason meeting. It included statistics detailing the amenities at 15 other schools’ fields, such as artificial turf, scoreboards, bullpens, batting cages and outfield fences.
South Side, according to the survey, was the only school without a fence until the village bought one last month, and is one of two schools, along with Roslyn, without a scoreboard. At least 10 schools surveyed have batting cages, it also states. Barasch Field does not.
“Our overall goal here is to bring the program and the resources available to our kids up to par and make it comparable with the other public high school varsity baseball teams in Nassau County,” said Jeff Schwartz, whose son, Jason, is on the team. “We wanted to raise the visibility of Barasch and the conditions there as well as see if we could get them to employ some expertise. Taking care of a baseball field is very different than taking care of a park.”
Village Administrator Kathleen Murray said that in addition to buying the fence, the village recently ordered padding for the backstop. Though the school district has agreed to help pay for potential future improvements to the field, Murray said, there are no plans yet to add a scoreboard or batting cages, and such costs would have to be planned for, she added.
“It’s not something that’s going to happen overnight,” Kathleen Murray said, “but we’re not opposed to a discussion.”
Mayor Murray added that the village, following up on parents’ requests, would also look into replacing the bullpen and upgrading the dugouts, which he said could be done as early as next year.
In addition to concerns about field conditions and amenities, parents have also urged the board to add an assistant coach to the team’s staff. Currently, coach Tom Smith is the only adult leading the team, and players act as first-base coaches during games, which can present safety issues, parents said. Smith serves as the third-base coach, they added, which means no coach is on the bench when the Cyclones are batting.
Last month, after a ball took a hard bounce and hit a player in the face before a game, O’Sullivan wrote a letter to the Board of Education. Having another coach is especially important in the case of injury, she wrote.
Schwartz added that additional coaches could help with instruction, especially for those interested in playing college baseball, and that, although parents and players “love” Coach Smith, not having more than one coach puts them at a competitive disadvantage.
Johnson said at an April 16 Board of Education meeting that he would “revisit the whole complexion of our sports programs,” but added that he was unsure whether the district could add an assistant coach before the season ended. Nonetheless, he lauded parents for bringing the concerns to his attention. “We can’t fix what we don’t know is broke,” he said. “Maybe we should have been more attentive to it.” Carol Roseto, the district’s director of athletics, did not respond to the Herald’s call requesting comment.
O’Sullivan and Schwartz said that although there is more to be done, school and village officials have been responsive and willing to collaborate, making sure the field was playable throughout this season and providing a fence last month.
“We found that when we speak to them, they listen with both ears wide open and have acted very quickly when and where they can,” Schwartz said. “We’re well on the way to no longer being at a disadvantage . . . and we feel very positively about that.”