Elsipogtog First Nation’s ball diamonds may be guarded by torn fencing but kids in the community still share laughs as they hit dingers or sprint around the bases.
Soon though, they’ll get upgrades to the facilities thanks to the Field of Dreams program of the Jays Care Foundation. Elsipogtog, about 55 kilometres north of Moncton, is among 15 recipients sharing $1.5 million in baseball infrastructure funding.
The program provides funding to design, refurbish or build spaces to play baseball and is the charitable arm of the Toronto Blue Jays major league baseball team.
Haylen Augustine, 11, and six of his friends have spent the last couple of days at the field after school. They say it’s a great way for them to hang out.
“We have a lot of fun and we always get all our friends to come out,” he said.
Haylen said it’d be nice to hear there’s going to be some upgrades at the baseball diamonds.
“It would be a lot better because these are old,” said Haylen.
Along with the torn fencing, there’s graffiti on the dugout benches, and the dugout roofs are damaged. Both diamonds need new bases, too.
Organizers in the First Nation plan to make those repairs and upgrade the field lights, so they can have night games.
“We were scared that the kids were going to get hurt on the fence because fences were all ripped up, so we didn’t really have them out that much,” said Kylie Francis, sports and recreation manager.
“But it’s important that we’re going to have a safe place for them to play, to learn and to grow.”
League starting this summer
Francis and Barry Augustine, the local arena manager who also maintains the community’s diamonds, helped to put together the winning bid.
Augustine believes it’s been well over 10 years since the field had any major upgrades.
“Getting that little help from these organizations makes it a lot easier for our community to get new [facilities]. There’s no funding for all this,” said Augustine.
He said there’s money for things like cutting the grass but anything major, like fence replacement, would need a lot more funding to complete.
As a parent of an eight-year-old ball player, he said he’s also excited to see what the field will look like after the upgrades.
Francis said she’s not sure how much the repairs will cost — she’s still collecting construction quotes — but estimates needing about $75,000 for each field’s upgrades.
Francis said they may only get funding to do work on one diamond but she hopes the space is ready for the start of the community ball season in June.
She said 80 athletes, ages five to 18, are registered for community baseball this year and Elsipogtog is starting a league this summer, too.
“We need to have better facilities to host our kids in and you know, everybody’s really excited about it,” said Francis.
Louis Bull Tribe in Maskwacis, Alta., and Dakota Plains school in Manitoba are other First Nations communities among those sharing this year’s Field of Dreams grant.
Andrew Levi, 10, one of the kids playing at the park after school on Tuesday said he’d welcome any changes.
“It would be good because I think I should start playing more,” said Andrew.