The two new Dunwoody Senior Baseball fields are busy with league and tournament play, but some City Council members are questioning their openness to general public use.
The ball fields, owned by the city and managed by DSB, opened earlier this year. DSB President Jerry Weiner gave the mayor and City Council an update on the new fields at the Aug. 27 council meeting, saying the fields have attracted national attention from leagues throughout the Southeast.
For example, Perfect Game USA, an amateur baseball league based in Iowa that boasts on its website it is “the world’s largest baseball scouting service” for colleges and Major League Baseball, held tournaments at the fields from June through August, Weiner said. Teams from across the eastern U.S. came to Dunwoody to play with about 300 people per day at the park.
Another baseball league, Triple Crown Sports based in Georgia, brought in 500 people over a weekend in June and will bring in more players and fans in September through November, he said.
“And they used our hotels and restaurants,” Weiner said. “The fields are attracting a lot of attention.”
But Councilmember John Heneghan said it may be time to put a public calendar in place through the Parks and Recreation Department to allow local residents time to use the fields for recreational soccer, softball or kickball leagues.
“We want your program to thrive, but we also want the fields for community uses,” he said. “I see this wonderful play area as a community area, not just for baseball players from all over the Southeast.”
DSB is hosting a grand opening of the new fields slated for Monday, Sept. 22, where the public will be welcome to visit and play, Weiner said.
Heneghan added all the new leagues and tournament play seemed to be going “against the grain” of DSB’s original mission to serve baseball players ages 13 to 18. Now there are major league players and outsiders coming in, he said, leading to potential overuse of the fields.
Weiner said it was never DSB’s intent to attract such national attention to Dunwoody, but that was a product of the fields the city built. The number one focus is still its recreational leagues, he said.
The new baseball fields with artificial turf cost about $7 million in city funds. They were built in an area between Brook Run Park and Peachtree Charter Middle School after the city swapped the Dunwoody Park fields with the DeKalb County School District to build a new Austin Elementary School. In return, the school district paid the city $3.6 million.
After many construction delays, the one field opened in March and the second field opened in June. The fields were packed with league play as soon as they opened, Weiner said.
The baseball fields’ use has been an ongoing debate in the city for some years. When Dunwoody Senior Baseball was located at Dunwoody Park, some residents argued that the tax-funded fields should be open to more public use rather than just baseball league play. Residents have argued there are not enough athletic fields in the city, including fields for girls’ softball, soccer or lacrosse. The city says that the new multi-use fields planned for Brook Run Park will help alleviate some of that demand.
The new fields’ more prominent location along North Peachtree Road are heightening concerns about their use.
“We appreciate what you’ve done,” Councilmember Lynn Deutsch told Weiner. “But something is different now that you are very visible.”
She raised concerns about admission fees being charged for weekend tournaments and said no fees should be charged for use of public parks. She and Heneghan also asked if the fields were being overused. She also said she followed some leagues on Facebook and noted the players were not staying in Dunwoody hotels.
Weiner said the agreement DSB has with the city gives the league control and responsibility of the fields. He added that charging admission fees is something he would also like to see done away with, but the tournament sponsors require them. He added Dunwoody residents are never charged an admission fee.
Other nonprofits located on city-owned property charge fees, he added, such as the Dunwoody Nature Center.
“I don’t know why we are being singled out,” Weiner said.
Mayor Denis Shortal raised concerns about the maintenance of the fields. He said he noticed a man with his feet up on the fence at a game. Players are also spitting sunflower seeds into dugouts and leaving a mess, the mayor said.
“These fields belong to 48,000 people. You have to take care of your stuff,” Shortal told Weiner. He also said some of the money DSB saves up from fees needs to be put into a “sinking fund” so when repairs need to be made, there is money to make them.
Weiner said DSB spent $69,500 on improvements to the new fields as well as renting other fields while the new fields were still being constructed. He estimated the league needs to spend another $225,000 for more capital improvements, including rebuilding the bullpens. He said the current bullpens, where pitchers warm up, have light poles in the middle of them.