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Carrington Field: Baseball community turns to school district for help

The city of Bemidji has agreed to relocate Carrington Field, but now the question is - where?

Members of the Bemidji Baseball Association and Bemidji Youth Baseball pitched a proposal to the Bemidji Area Schools District on Monday to relocate the field onto the Bemidji High School campus.

Carrington Field was removed from Bemidji City Park, before a $3.8 million renovation project was approved by the city to turn the park into a four-field softball complex, with a skate park, sand volleyball courts and additional play and picnic areas.

Currently, the city is offering a $350,000 contribution to the BBA for the field's relocation. The BBA and BYB proposed to the school district the field be relocated to an area located behind the high school, between the parking lot and the soccer fields.

"We're working on a couple of options, but it's not coming along as quickly as the Baseball Association would like," said Marcia Larson, Bemidji Parks and Recreation director. "If we had the property, we would have relocated the field already."

Without Carrington Field, the district is down to using three fields, including Bemidji State University's baseball field used for varsity games; the Sagedahl field, located north of the Bemidji Middle School and previously used for junior varsity games; and a practice field located on the BHS campus.

This spring, with the loss of Carrington Field, the junior varsity baseball team will have to compete with the seventh- and eighth-grade baseball teams for use of the prep fields across from the BMS.

"We are at a net loss of one practice field. We haven't done anything to solve the problem," said City Councilor Kevin Waldhausen. "I'd personally like to see two fields built, but we need to for sure build one."

Mike Fogelson, coach of the BHS and Legion baseball teams, said a minimum of three practice fields are needed for Bemidji's baseball program.

"We have the money. I see a great opportunity for the school to use it for a high-class baseball facility," he said. "There's something special about being able to practice and play on campus."

Chris Leinen, the District's director of business services, listed the following problems with the proposed field relocation to the BHS campus:

- Baseball games would likely be during times that staff would be parked in the adjacent parking lot. Foul balls would hit the windshields of the cars parked there.

- The high school's bus loop would be directly behind home plate. Bus traffic would conflict with baseball traffic in both directions.

- The proposed baseball field would have to extend onto a ditch drainage system, which runs along Adams Avenue. The development of a field over the drainage system would cause major flooding.

- The field would need to be shrunk in order to fit into the proposed area without hindering the nearby soccer fields.

"I think the space is too small," said Leinen. "It would be a third field with a fence that is too short."

According to District athletics director Harvey Crable, adding a baseball field to the land behind the high school would only be a matter of removing grass. However, the District estimates it would cost $350,000 to relocate the two soccer fields the baseball field would encroach on.

"I would like to see a first-class baseball facility, but I'm not willing to displace the soccer people," said Superintendent Jim Hess. "The net loss of a practice facility is not as bad as losing a game facility."

"Our goal is not to displace soccer," said Tom Welle, a spokesperson from the BBA. "We know what that feels like. We are looking for a commitment from the school district to work out a plan down the road to build a first-class baseball field."

The District is looking to purchase property currently owned by Enbridge separating the BHS campus from County Road 7. Roughly 30 acres would be available to the District for purchase on Oct. 1, 2010, after pipeliners finish work on the Alberta Clipper Pipeline Project, Leinen said.

"We need to look at our planning strategy with the Enbridge property before we can discuss anything else," said school board member Steven Johnson.

"I respect the fact they want to work with us," said school board member John Pugleasa. "We want to be part of the solution. It is unfortunate that we have lost a baseball field, and in the long term, we still want to be part of the discussion, just not in that spot."