Baseball has turned into a numbers game in recent years thanks to the advent of the "Moneyball" philosophy. Unfortunately for Newton teams, they are playing a different type of numbers games at the moment — with a lack of local ball fields making it difficult to facilitate practices and games over the course of recent seasons.
Newton Rec Commission Superintendent Brian Bascue noted the organization has 60 teams playing in its summer leagues alone, with 10 fields available across the city (Centennial Park, Athletic Park, etc.). That number does not include the independent organizations also in need of facilities.
"Trying to find enough fields to get everybody's needs met, with these organizations as well, is a challenge," Bascue said.
For that reason, Newton Baseball Club vice president Brandon Weeks came before the USD 373 Board of Education at its last meeting urging it to consider voting in favor of a field expansion.
Weeks presented the NBC's expanding numbers as evidence of a need, noting the club grew from 117 players to 126 players over this past year and that more growth (with upwards of 150 players) is expected next year following a merger with another organization and teams.
In 2018, NBC teams hosted 48 games and one tournament and made a commitment to continue building up the organization. While it hosted more home games (57) in 2019, the NBC was unable to host a tournament due to lack of field availability.
Currently, the field expansion has been tabled by the Public Building Commission (a joint entity run and funded through the NRC, school district and city of Newton). The PBC manages the common fields/athletic spaces in Newton and while an expansion plan has been developed, recent work has focused more on amenities (e.g. the press box at Klein-Scott Field) rather than construction of new fields. Weeks came before the school board asking for a push in the latter direction.
"I'm asking to speed up the process," Weeks said.
Bascue and Newton Director of Public Works Suzanne Loomis noted that plans are currently in the works for a joint meeting in October to discuss the issue of field expansion among the PBC and its funding entities.
For the NRC, field expansion is a top priority — along with renovations to the swimming pool that are also likely to be discussed at the joint meeting.
"This is something that needs to be accomplished over the next couple of years, along with the swimming pool," Bascue said. "It just needs to happen — there's such a need out there."
With the big push to come from the city, Bascue is uncertain of any timeline of when such work might start, but he's hopeful a decision might be made over the next couple of months so action can be taken.
As noted, plans are in place for field expansion — adding two fields while also improving existing fields — and it is now a matter of prioritizing funding for those efforts.
Loomis noted that the city commission voted to increase its share of PBC funding to an even 1 mill in the 2020 budget and a history of PBC funding usage is to be reviewed at the joint meeting.
Both Weeks and Bascue are hopeful that more of that funding will be dedicated to new fields in the near future. While that decision is unclear, what is clear is the impact expansion would have.
Weeks noted the NBC made more than $500 just from concessions at the last tournament it hosted and Bascue said the NRC and independent organizations are committed to additional usage with additional fields.
"The biggest thing is that we will be able to host more games, more tournaments and also a lot of these other organizations that are within Newton have also told us that they would host more games or tournaments to come to Newton," Bascue said. "We'd be able to bring more teams to Newton and allow these teams to play more games in Newton."