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Batter Up! Better Fields = Better Ball

When the bigwigs gather this month in Back of the Yards to celebrate upgrades to the baseball fields at Davis Square Park, Jazmin Patino and Anthony Martinez will be leading the cheers. And for good reason.

Patino, 13, and Martinez, 11, are among the ball-playing constituents who’ll benefit most from the $65,000 grant via the Cubs Charities Diamond Project that supported general field improvements, four sets of ADA bleachers, scoreboards, pitching mounds and bases.

They represent hundreds of Back of the Yards residents for whom the 8.3 acre park at 44th Street and Marshfield Avenue is an essential community asset – a place to play, to socialize, to learn. Its 1905 field house sports a gym, an auditorium and a fitness center. Outside are the baseball fields, basketball courts, an artificial turf athletic field, and a swimming pool.

Jazmin Patino, 13, grew up in Back of the Yards and loves Davis Square Park. Baseball is her game, and improved fields are making her even better at it.

Photos by Gordon Walek

Patino, who grew up in the neighborhood and lives down the street from the park, loves the place, just as she loves baseball, which she plays there frequently, often as the only girl on teams of boys. It’s an urban paradise. Except when it isn’t.

Better parks, safer parks

“It’s pretty safe,” said Patino, “but sometimes not.” As in many Chicago neighborhoods, the crack of gunfire in and around the park is as familiar as the crack of bats. And Patino, Martinez and their families have developed a sixth sense that dictates when playing there is safe.

“They know when to stay away,” said Sean Ortiz, the park supervisor. “They were born and raised in Back of the Yards, and they stay here. It’s just unfortunate they can’t use the park after a certain time because of safety issues.”

That’s why Ortiz is doing everything in his power to make the park, particularly its outdoor amenities, even more appealing to neighborhood kids and their families. The more the park is used for recreational activities, he reasons, the less appealing it’ll be for gangs. Hence his enthusiasm for the Diamond Project grant, the baseball field improvements, and the additional kids that will be drawn to park programs. There’s safety in numbers.

Patino, who’ll attend Benito Juarez Community Academy in the fall, is a sort of unofficial parks ambassador, not just for Davis Square but for other parks where she plays baseball. She’s played for as many as four teams in one season. And she brings her family (one brother, two sisters) with her. The new bleachers are a great benefit, because spectators won’t have to haul their own lawn chairs to the games.

Sean Ortiz, the supervisor of Davis Square Park, sees the improved baseball fields, and the players and spectators they attract, as an antidote to the violence that sometimes erupts in the area.

A family affair

Patino’s even elevated her mother from the spectator ranks (she attends every game) into a participant via a “kids vs. moms” competition.

“I saw my mom run for the first time,” she said. “It was funny. I coached the moms and got to tell my mom what to do for once. I made them do push ups.”

Martinez also lives just a few blocks from the park and makes good use of it. “The improvements have made the park a lot better,” he said. “The synthetic turf soccer field installed a few years ago is great. We sometimes use it for baseball practice.”

And the baseball fields are about to get much better, as have others throughout the city thanks to the Cubs Charities Diamond Project, which provides grants to local community organizations (such as Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council for the Davis Square improvements) to expand opportunities for children to play baseball year-round, create or preserve green space in underserved neighborhoods, and to foster a love of baseball.

More than just money

And the Diamond Project includes more than just money. In 2014, after Davis Square and other grantees were announced, Ortiz was among 50 recreational managers and community leaders invited to Wrigley Field to get professional advice on turf and clay grooming at a field maintenance clinic. That experience helped to ensure that once fields are upgraded, parks staff has the know-how to keep them looking sharp. This year’s Field Maintenance Clinic at Wrigley Field will take place on May 18 for local area youth baseball and softball organizations.

“The improvements have made the park a lot better,” said Anthony Martinez, 11, a regular player at Davis Square Park. “The synthetic turf soccer field installed a few years ago is great. We sometimes use it for baseball practice.”

The Diamond Project not only to responds to the immediate shortage of playing fields, but also to build an infrastructure through partnerships and resident involvement which will sustain these open spaces for community use, increasing the number of kids playing baseball throughout Chicago.

General field and stadium support for Chatham’s South Side Little League program – part of the same Diamond Project funding round – includes benches, dugouts, resurfacing the infields and extending one field. A pair of baseball fanatics – J’Shawn Taylor, who lives in Chatham, and Jakaree Fox (both 13), a Greater Grand Crossing resident – are poised to take full advantage of them.

Taylor, who will attend Whitney Young High School in the fall and hopes to have a career in math or engineering, has played in a lot of parks and concluded that it’s better playing on a well-maintained field than one that isn’t. So of course he’s a fan of the Diamond Project improvements. But he’s equally keen on the programmatic support that the new field allows.

“You need to know the basics before you play the game,” he said. “My coach really drilled in to me the fundamentals and mechanics of baseball. If you don’t know how to play the game correctly, you won’t need a field.”

LISC Chicago provides technical assistance for the Diamond Project helping Cubs Charities identify neighborhoods in need of new or improved baseball fields and facilities as well as community partners to work with, each of which demonstrate a commitment to maintaining and using the space for youth safety and community programming.

Since 2014, Cubs Charities has awarded nearly $900,000 in capital improvement grants to improve the quality, safety and accessibility of local baseball fields or indoor training facilities.

“LISC Chicago’s mission is to connect neighborhoods to the resources they need to become stronger and heathier – and, great neighborhood spaces like the baseball fields supported by Cubs Charities helps keep kids active and involved by offering opportunities for recreation, mentorship and sportsmanship,” said Meghan Harte, LISC Chicago’s Executive Director. “We are proud to partner with Cubs Charities to help bring baseball and softball to all of Chicago’s neighborhoods.”

Watch a video about Davis Square Park.

Applications for the next funding round of the Cubs Charities Diamond Project are open through June 3.


Posted in Placemaking, Back of the Yards


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Local Initiatives Support Corporation Chicago connects neighborhoods to the resources they need to become stronger and healthier.

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