Kids still waiting to play ball at Kramer Fields


Shane Flanigan

Kramer Ball Fields in Kent remain inaccessible after construction of a new bridge was delayed in 2011 after the discovery of endangered mussels living under the bridge. Construction is expected to resume in August 2013 and completed by the 2014 baseball season in April. Photo by Shane Flanigan.

Grant Engle

The Kent Parks and Recreation department has been forced to use some “creative” solutions when it comes to scheduling games for its baseball and softball leagues the last two years.

In 2011, the Ohio Department of Transportation closed the Harvey Redmond Bridge, which was the only way for people to get to the Kramer Ball Fields from Fred Fuller Park.

The four fields on the tiny island across the Cuyahoga River hosted games and practices for the 12 baseball and softball leagues and are even equipped with lights for night games. The league will operate with seven fields during the 2013 season.

Nancy Rice, a recreation supervisor who helps manage the leagues, said she has had some complaints from coaches and parents about the fields being closed for so long.

“A lot of people don’t really understand the background of what it really takes to build a bridge,” Rice said.

Kent City Manager Dave Ruller has said the city wanted to rely on a federal grant instead of using tax dollars — even if that meant waiting longer for the bridge to be built.

While the city waited for a grant to replace the bridge and conducted environmental research required by ODOT, Rice made deals with elementary schools with baseball fields around Portage County — including Kent State baseball diamonds at the Allerton Sports Complex.

Rice said the university and all of the elementary schools that have hosted the leagues have been very accommodating, and she is grateful they will be helping with the 2013 season.

Now that the city’s application has been approved for the ODOT grant, which will pay for 80 percent of the new bridge, Rice said construction should be completed before the 2014 season — and Parks and Recreation is ready for it.

The league is now operating with seven fields. Here’s where they’re located:

– Brady Lake

– Roosevelt High School

– Franklin Elementary School

– Longcoy Elementary School

– Walls Elementary School

– Al Lease Park

– Allerton Sports Complex.

“When it’s open we’re going to be very, very happy,” Rice said with a laugh. “It’s going to make my life a lot easier.”

The new bridge and access to Kramer Ball Fields will also make life easier on parents and children who have had to travel to Ravenna, Brimfield and Rootstown for games and some practices.

Leo Fertig has coached in Kent Youth Baseball and Softball for 15 years. He said Parks and Recreation has done an admirable job scheduling games after losing the four diamonds at Kramer Ball Field, but games aren’t the issue teams have faced.

“The biggest thing that hurts us right now is there’s not enough practice fields,” Fertig said.

While the city has scrambled to make sure no games have been canceled, some teams are left without a baseball field to practice on when all fields are booked with league games.

Fertig also pointed out that some of the fields that have been used since 2011 are not as well kept as the Kramer Ball Fields. He cited subpar infield conditions, a lack of fences and other missing amenities as drawbacks of playing on fields housed at local schools.

“They’re kind of makeshift fields,” Fertig said. “There are no dugouts. You’re just sitting on a bench.”

Despite the scrambling to find fields and occasional rough conditions, Fertig commended Parks and Recreation for never canceling a game or closing a league due to a lack of fields.

“We’re making due with what’s available,” Fertig said. “For what [Parks and Recreation] have to work with, they’re doing a heck of a job.”

Contact Grant Engle at [email protected].