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West Tampa Little League wants city's help

League leaders have complained about inadequate lighting, unclean restrooms, and homeless people who hang out at the park. They’ve asked the city to erect fences to secure the field from the nearby streets and build more restrooms.

ATOYIA DEANS | Times

League leaders have complained about inadequate lighting, unclean restrooms, and homeless people who hang out at the park. They’ve asked the city to erect fences to secure the field from the nearby streets and build more restrooms.

MACFARLANE PARK — It was on the concrete floor outside the locked boys restroom: a pile of apparent human waste.

The two women who run West Tampa Little League's concession stand had warned that the homeless had been using the shadowy corners of the fields' press box, dugouts and bathroom corridors for sleep and restrooms, and the proof was evident on a recent visit.

Sure enough, the concrete floors and walls were visibly soaked with urine. No used condoms were seen but those, too, the women said, are sometimes found.

This is just a portion of the problems that plague the West Tampa Little League fields, a legendary place of play that cradled the early careers of major leaguers such as Luis Gonzalez, Tino Martinez, Fred McGriff, and Dave Magadan.

Those were better times.

"I myself have had to clean up feces and condoms," said Maggie Puentes, West Tampa Little League vice president.

"On a hot day, you can't even stand and watch the game," said Katie Hernandez, league treasurer.

Both women also run the concession stand and say they spend about 28 hours at the fields each week. For months, Hernandez, backed by other members of the league's board of directors, has let Mayor Pam Iorio's office know about health and safety concerns.

They also include:

• The field has just two restrooms to accommodate between 300 and 800 people during game days. One restroom has plumbing that's continually backed up, rendering it nearly unusable. The other restroom includes just one toilet each for men and women.

• At night, areas outside the diamonds aren't lit by street lights and turn pitch black under the cover of giant oak trees. Many practices and games take place at night and these areas are well-traveled by kids.

• The park lacks a fence around its perimeter that could keep trespassers and vagrants out and keep children safe from busy traffic on Spruce Street.

The West Tampa Little League began in 1962 and has sent six Tampa teams to World Series competitions. In 1970, one of its teams was named Senior World Series Champions.

In the later years, as people moved away to the suburbs, other mega leagues have formed with more modern facilities. But the West Tampa Little League has maintained low registration fees of $50 to serve the families that remain in its surrounding neighborhoods.

Already this year, league officials said, they gave out $3,000 in scholarships and took an additional loss of about $2,000 for children from families who forgot to pay or couldn't pay fees.

"We don't want to turn away any kids to play," Hernandez said. "We're not Bayshore and we're not Palma Ceia. We just can't afford our own renovations."

The four-diamond park, at Spruce and N Jamaica streets, includes two buildings: An original press box, which is used for board meetings, and a concession stand that the Tampa Bay Rays built in 2007.

The Rays spent about $100,000 on the concession stand and a new roof above some bleachers. The same year, the city — which leases the park to the league — installed more than 10 field lights, which brightened the park considerably.

Little League officials are grateful but said the additions weren't enough. They said their concerns have more to do with safety than aesthetics.

In July 2007, a 16-year-old was stabbed several times in front of the concession stand in an attack police said was unrelated to a Little League game. So far this year, Tampa police have been summoned to the park six times on emergency calls that included disturbances and a fight.

"Something's going to happen to these kids," said league president Randy Morgado. "They think they're in a safe haven."

Tampa parks and recreation spokeswoman Linda Carlo said city officials are responding to the league's concerns.

Tampa forestry workers started trimming some of the oak trees this week. The Risk Management Department reviewed the need for a chain-link fence around the property. Plumbers have looked at the problematic bathrooms.

After the city's analysis of the park is completed, Carlo said, officials hope to sit down with league officials in the next couple of weeks.

"We're collecting all the figures and we'll look at it," she said. "What we can do, we can do."

Hernandez, however, said that, as far as the league knows, the city has done nothing but complain about code problems in the park's fairly new and working concession stand. Hernandez and Morgado speculate that the city is trying to deflect the league's concerns from the real issues at the park.

They said they see parks and walkways being built downtown during the recession and wonder why repairs to existing parks — particularly one that carries so much history — don't come first.

In 1978, Morgado said, future major league pitcher Dwight Gooden stopped Morgado's 18-game hitting streak at the West Tampa fields. Morgado cherishes that memory and his time in the league, which allowed him to escape an alcoholic father, he said.

It's moments like those that he wants Little Leaguers to savor — not the sights and smells he would rather forget.

Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or jgeorge@sptimes.com.

West Tampa Little League wants city's help 11/19/09 [Last modified: Thursday, November 19, 2009 3:31am]

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