They played baseball Saturday afternoon at League Park. Two sandlot teams from the suburbs put the diamond to use, a rarity.
For League Park, a $6.3 million ballpark in the Hough-Fairfax neighborhood, often goes unused, a brick-and-mortar symbol of lousy governance; it reflects how people without vision lord over all-things Cleveland.
Folks who live in the city have seen this myopia under outgoing Mayor Frank Jackson, whose four terms in City Hall illustrated that he had no sense of how to tackle the bigger concerns of residents.
The ballpark has never been one of his biggest concerns; he spent not one second fretting over it. Instead, Jackson let his Public Works director, the man who runs his Recreation Department and the Ward 7 councilman handle the task, which means hoping they might have a vision.
All proved as shortsighted as he.
League Park now stands as the white elephant in a Black neighborhood. Strip the Baseball Heritage Museum from the East Side site, and the noise echoes like a Tibetan monk in solitary. Nothing about the atmosphere around East 66th Street and Lexington Avenue makes people who wanted the ballpark site saved believe city officials ever had plans for its use.
Think about it: Those who operate the place refuse to let local companies post ads, which the original League Park had everywhere.
Next to the men’s and women’s restrooms is a shuttered concession stand. No person can recall when the stand last opened for the sale of popcorn, peanuts and Cracker Jack.
On a warm day like this particular Saturday, the concession stand would have done a brisk business in cold water, chilled bottles of Coca Cola and Sugardale hot dogs with their “knock-it-out-of-the-park flavor.”
Oh, and heavy on the “Stadium Mustard.”
Few supporters of the renovation predicted League Park would turn a profit, but those people who run the place should take steps to ensure it makes “some” money from its history and the nostalgia of playing on the same ballfield in which Ruth, Satchel, Doby, Gehrig, Feller, Boudreau, Cobb, Speaker and other Hall-of-Famers displayed their greatness for Clevelanders.
Everybody you talk to claims those bureaucrats who oversee League Park have never tried.
That’s the ignominy of it — listening to the emptiness of a ballpark that sparkles like a diamond in a neighborhood on the rebound.
Down the road, high-price houses will sprout around the ballpark. Plans for them are etched in marble. When those dwellings are completed, people in Hough-Fairfax will be less open to seeing the ballpark gush with life. They won’t want to deal with the parking problems that come on game nights or the din from baseballs meeting the barrel of aluminum bats.
When that happen, then what?
That’s the question everybody behind the renovation should have in the front of their minds. They should be approaching Jackson, his political sycophants Mike Cox and Tim Wells, and mayoral candidate Basheer Jones and insisting they answer this question: What’s next here?
Build it and they should come … unless you’re a place like League Park. It has too many obstacles that halt people from coming to see the ballpark and, even more obstacles, from coming to use it.
So it’s time for those Cleveland politicians and their sidekicks to heed an umpire’s call: “Play ball!”