It's merely a sign of the economic times that Anne Arundel CommunityCollege is asking amateur baseball teams for a fee to use its baseball field this summer.
Teams such as the Severn American Legion Post No. 276 and the Arundel Stars unlimited team put in their annual requests to use the field and received quite a jolt.
The community college informed summer baseball teams that it was charging nearly $300 to use the diamond. The charges break down for $125 per three hours for a rental fee, $68 for a field technician, and$100 per four hours for a groundskeeper.
Years ago, the school charged nothing for use the field, and more recently levied only a nominal fee.
"I wish we could give it away like we used to, but we can't anymore," said Anne Arundel Community College President Dr. ThomasE. Florestano.
"We've had a tough year over here and we need somehelp from these amateur teams if they want to use the field. That field is important to us and we are responsible for it, but after reading ('Sidelines' last week), we called (Stars coach) Dan Fielder in and sat down with him to see if we could work something out."
Fielder met with the president and the school's director of facilities and assistant dean Fred Schram. Florestano says the school made concessions that Fielder would not accept.
"We told him about our problem and asked him if he could give us some help. We don't like doing this,but with our budget problems we have no choice," said Florestano. "He (Fielder) wants to play about 10 to 15 games here and we came way down from our original fee, but because a lot of his players are from our school team, he feels we owe it to him for nothing. We can't do that."
Florestano said the college dropped the total cost for use of the field to about $100, but that still wasn't acceptable to Fielder.
Severn Post coach Willie Domingues said his team will not play at Anne Arundel this summer because of the fees.
"We can't afford those prices and we are going to use Chesapeake High and have put in a request to use Northeast High," said Domingues.
Field availability seems to be a growing problem for youth baseball teams. It's greatthat amateur baseball is growing, but not so great when you can't get a field to play on or can't afford to use a specific field.
Joe Cannon Stadium in Harmans continues to fill its game calendar and is fast becoming the best buy in town for local youth teams. The fee is $25 a game for Anne Arundel youth teams.
"I don't know how Anne Arundel Community College can get away with charging such outrageous fees," said Lew Holmes, president of the Anne Arundel Amateur Baseball Association.
"It said in your article last week that Schram said he didn't know what the budgets of the clubs were. Well, for his information, amateur teams have shoestring budgets. We just can't let our public community college get away with this."
When Florestano was told that the local teams would have to go elsewhere to play and thatthe school wouldn't make anything, his answer was, "Well, those amateur teams tear up the fields and we've got to maintain them.
"If no one uses it, the field won't get beat up and we won't have to go inthere and re-sod it. It costs money to take care of the fields."
Baseball people may be surprised to know that the Hero's Lacrosse program that uses the community college fields a few nights a week during the summer months pays its way.
"Hero's saw it coming and increased their participation fees over the last couple years, where now they are making a fairly significant contribution, about $5,000 this year," said Florestano.
"Tell you what, they tear those fields up, but the Hero's program involves hundreds of kids from around the county. It's like Boys' Town. These amateur baseball teams are talking about 10 or 15 games with not that many kids involved."
Maybe summer teams ought to consider charging a registration fee to absorb field rentals if they want to use the community college.
Costs to run theolder teams continue to rise, as good sponsors are harder to come by. That's all the more reason to charge the teen-agers a fee to play. Many of the older players have part-time jobs and it would seem that paying a reasonable fee to play at the more costly levels should not be beneath them.
Maybe our older teams, run by volunteers, many ofwhom work hard to raise money to have first-class teams, need to lighten up on the way they cater to the teen-agers.
I would hope the kids in this county realize how fortunate they are to have such quality summer baseball programs as the AAABA and American Legion. To preserve it in a tight economy, they would be willing to pay their fair share.
You have to admire Fielder's dedication in running that older team, but nearly all of his guys are in their late teens and early 20s who work summer jobs and could chip in to pay that $100 fee at Anne Arundel.