EAST LIVERPOOL - With a new season just around the backstop, East Liverpool Area Youth Baseball President Jeff Sonntog recently found himself in the same stress-filled situation as 12 months ago.
In 2013, there was a last-minute reprieve. This year, Sonntog knows it won't happen again.
ELAYB has been searching for a new permanent home since March 2012, when Beaver Local School District voters approved the bond issue that paved the way for construction of a new K-12 school complex. The site of the construction project on Bell School Road is land once occupied by the Beaver Local Fields, formerly known as the Old Timers Baseball Fields, which ELAYB called its home for 40 years.
Following passage of the bond issue, Beaver Local Superintendent Kent Polen stated a groundbreaking ceremony would take place at the site in a year's time. That announcement caused a great deal of worry among ELAYB board members, as it appeared to leave the league without a home for the following season, little more than a year away.
"When you've never had to look before and all of a sudden you're looking, it's really a difficult thing," Sonntog said.
He admits they dodged a bullet when the groundbreaking date was revised back to August 2013, allowing them to have one final season of gameplay at the old ball fields. Since then, however, it has been a scramble to find a complex to settle in. With another season set to begin April 1, however, Sonntog says he is relieved to have recently secured temporary accommodations at the Thompson Park ball field for 2014.
"Luckily, the park has really helped us out this year," he said.
Five-year-old T-ball through 12-year-old bronco squads will practice and play at the park, though Pony league play would need to take place at either East Liverpool or Beaver Local school fields to meet league standards. Sonntog admits that sign-up numbers so far this year have been so low, they may not be able to field a Pony team, negating the need for the schools' bigger facilities.
As with last year, Sonntog suspects the uncertainty of ELAYB's venue situation has kept many parents from enrolling their children for league play. "A lot of people didn't know what we were doing because we didn't know," he said. "It's hard to put something out there and say you're going to have baseball when you don't know."
Negotiations between ELAYB and the city Community Improvement Corporation have been a source of disappointment for Sonntog. A portion of the former Riverview property was discussed, he says, but the CIC's inability to come to a final decision has hampered the process. "They've given me a lot of false hope over the last two years about property," he said. "We're still looking at options for land."
One such option, just recently uncovered, appears promising to Sonntog. He did not wish to reveal details until more is known, but he expressed cautious optimism. "We're going to talk to them and hopefully build an official home, have something like the complex again," he said.
Sign-ups for ELAYB will continue next Sunday, Feb. 9, from 1 to 5 p.m., at St. Clair Township Administration Building in Calcutta.