J.D. and Reece, owned by Socko Pearson and Renee Ferguson, get acquainted at Birdie Tebbetts Field. Islander Photo: Caroline Sparks
He claimed he was a lawyer from Illinois, and he had come to practice baseball with his son. He told some 30 people with animals at the field to leave. And they left.
Holmes Beach resident and dog park user Forrest Longworth Jr. and other dog park proponents told Holmes Beach commissioners this tale and more at a Jan. 17 commission work session. The dog park users said they want a change in signage at the field.
The signs posted at the field say: “No dogs permitted during ball playing activities,” and “This field is baseball/softball use only. All other activities use soccer field.”
They also sent a message that city officials should look down the road to even more dog-friendly changes. “I don’t have a dog in this fight,” said publisher of The Islander, Holmes Beach resident Bonner Joy, “my dogs don’t play well with other dogs, and we don’t go there.
“I really feel the ball park is obsolete,” she said, explaining how she had seen the ball park develop from a rocky, shell field to a Junior League baseball field.
It became a Junior League field where 14-16-year-olds played organized ball, and The Islander proudly sponsored the team, Joy said. However interest dwindled in the field as the interest in the Little League declined.
Anna Maria Island Little League was a chartered organization, not part of the community center, although they partnered for use of the center’s baseball stadium. She said they haven’t organized or produced teams suitable for regulation play on field, and she didn’t see that changing in the future.
“There are 30 to 50 dog owners there on a daily basis,” Joy said. “If you’re thinking about serving the most people, the highest and best use may be for dogs.”
Joy added that she spoke to three of the four Tebbetts’ children. They are not holding onto a hope that someday the field will be more popular, she said. “Whatever is best for Holmes Beach” is what they want. “They’d be happy to see it used.”
Barbara Parkman of 67th Street said, “We have a lot of animal lovers here. There are a few that mess up. So we clean up. She requested that “if it’s not going to be baseball, cover up the gosh darn orange sand.” She said it clings to the dogs paws and fur, stains everything it comes in contact with, and is hard to remove.
Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore, a former mayor of Holmes Beach and resident, said she agreed with Mayor Rich Bohnenberger, who had introduced the discussion saying the city has an interest in the baseball field, and it was built with county funding along with private donations.
Whitmore said the county was instrumental in leveling the grade and putting the grass in, and that Rex Hagen donated $50,000-60,000.
Whitmore said she favored giving everyone who contributed money input into any future use, but she pointed out that the comprehensive plan includes the field as “recreation,” and a dog park falls into that use category. “There was an agreement. If it were a catch game or not, they could share the field. We have to find a way to play nice in the sandbox.”
Another resident suggested finding a compromise, using it as a dog park when baseball is not in season. And in the spring, when it’s played, allowing use as a dog park until 4 p.m.
Joy added sunset occurs around 5:30 and you can’t have a game when it’s dark. She also suggested commissioners give thought to how much money they want to invest for clay, fertilizers and pesticides and manpower to maintain the field considering its limited use as a ball park.
Commissioner John Monetti asked whether the baseball field could be divided to allow for a regulation-sized soccer field. The fence on the south side of the baseball field is removeable, allowing for a larger open field.
It was, however, determined the field is too narrow for regulation soccer.
Commissioners Sandy Haas Martin and David Zaccagnino liked the suggestion to have a sign-in sheet for ball players at the police department.
“We still have to have the blessing of Mr. Hagen,” Zaccagnino said.
“I don’t know, said Monetti of this idea. “Dogs are using it 95 percent of the time. Should we provide this if we don’t know there’s going to be enough people showing up. There’s too much emphasis on ball park.”
Renee Ferguson of 77th Street said “all the ideas are great. “Let’s say if in the next year if we haven’t had any [ballpark] use, we stop putting the money into fertilizer.”
She said even when dog owners let the kids play, they haven’t had any problems.
Mayor Rich Bohnenberger said the signs were posted because there were dogs that chased some kids.
Dog park users responded they had not seen that problem.
And, the mayor said, more people are policing that field than ever, which is “a good thing.”
Debate about the use of Birdie Tebbetts Field began when the field parking lot became a staging area for a stormwater project. The lot also has been used for previous dredging projects.
There’s been objection to the loss of parking, largely because no organized sports have been scheduled for the park in more than two years.
The stormwater project began in mid-August, and is expected to bring relief to flood prone areas along Holmes Boulevard between 61st and 63rd streets, with a March completion date, according to public works superintendent Joe Duennes.
Scott Dell of the Anna Maria Island Community Center confirmed the center hasn’t scheduled the field for sports in two-three years.
Apparently an informal co-ed softball league used the field in the summer, but, beyond that, the field is only used by people allowing their dogs a fenced-in place to exercise.
The center’s declining interest in the field is attributed to a national decline in baseball as a children’s sport, according to Dell.
Birdie Tebbetts Field is the city’s only baseball field. It was dedicated in March 2001 to honor the late George Robert (“Birdie”) Tebbetts, a Holmes Beach resident. Tebbetts was known as a defensive-minded catcher for the Detroit Tigers, Boston Red Sox and the Cleveland Indians between the late 1930s and the early 1950s and as the best catcher in the American League in the 1940s.
He worked in baseball following his playing years as a manager and executive, ending his career as a master scout for the Marlins when the team formed in 1991.
He settled on Anna Maria Island in the 1950s and supported the Anna Maria Island Little League.
Anna Maria hosts a Little League field at the community center, and a ballfield also exists at Herb Dolan Park in Bradenton Beach.