2018-04-05 / Front Page

City makes effort to contain foul balls

By Abigail Worthing Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – The Biddeford Recreation Department has a foul ball problem at St. Louis Field.

Located on the corner of Hill and West streets, it’s a heavily traveled intersection in Biddeford with four of Biddeford’s five schools within a mile of the intersection, adding to the volume of pedestrian and vehicular traffic. The back stop at the field is parallel to JFK Elementary School and adjacent to homes on the opposite corner of the street, and when a foul ball is hit in that direction, the lack of a containment system leaves the area open to damages.

Carl Walsh, director of Biddeford Recreation is spearheading the effort to find a solution to the issue with foul balls. On March 6, the city released a request for proposed solution for a foul ball containment system. It requests proposals for the “design, supply and installation of a solution to foul ball containment.”

Foul ball containment can come in a few different forms, and are made with either metal or netting. These containments will stop a foul ball from leaving the field of play. The only thing standing between a foul ball and both Hill and West streets is the backstop. The Biddeford Recreation Department is open to any form of containment system, and the request leaves the nature of the containment to the company making the proposal. The primary stipulation to all solutions is that the distance between home plate and the backstop must remain the same.

According to the request, the department is willing to pay up to $30,000 for a system, and any proposal more expensive than that will need approval from the city.

Keith LeBlanc, varsity baseball coach for Biddeford High School, sees foul balls leave the field of play often during games.

“We use a batting tunnel during practice or there would be foul balls every couple of minutes,” said LeBlanc. “Every time there’s a foul ball, someone has to chase it, and it’s usually a student. They have to cross streets, and it’s not safe.”

Over the years, foul balls have left St. Louis Field 1 and caused damage to cars and surrounding properties. In addition to JFK Elementary School directly across the street, the homes located at 66 and 68 West St. are cited in the request as the primary concern for property damages. A foul ball can travel as fast as 100 mph, and have caused damage on the West and Hill streets corner over the years.

“I’ve seen windshields broken, hoods dented, houses get hit,” LeBlanc said.

According to Walsh, foul balls have always been a problem across his 21-year tenure as director. When a foul ball hits a car or property, it is considered “just bad luck,” Walsh said, and leaves no one responsible.

“The homeowners (in the area) have been particularly vocal about this,” Walsh said. “And this year the city of Biddeford set aside money to take care of it.”

The proposed start date for construction is July 30,and the project must be completed by Aug. 24 before the start of the school year. The primary caveat for the project is that the backstop must not be affected during the baseball season. St. Louis Field is a busy field during summer and fall, and the proposed construction cannot affect the field of play.

“Maybe it’s a higher fence, or netting on higher posts around the outside of the backstop, but they can’t affect the backstop during the season,” Walsh said.

The largest hurdle is that baseball season and construction season in Maine are concurrent, with postseason running until the end of October.

“It’s the nature of the beast,” Walsh said. “We’ll just have to wait and see what they come up with.”

Proposed solutions must be turned in to the Biddeford Recreation Department by May 18. and department officials will meet May 21 to discuss proposals.

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