Lucy and Polo pace near the outfield gate Feb 21 as a team of young ballplayers practice behind the new signup board at Birdie Tebbetts Field. A sign on the fence prohibits dogs during ball playing activities at the city’s ball field, 62nd Avenue and Flotilla Drive. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell
Lucy and Polo meander on the street side of the outfield fence last week as ballplayers and their coaches utilize the baseball field for practice at Birdie Tebbetts Field.
Hammerhead Pools, a team of young players whose organizer said they were from G.T. Bray, practice at Birdie Tebbetts field Feb. 21, as dogs and dog owners remain outside the fence.
As city commissioners look into a fence to separate the ball field and dog owners exercising their pets, more ball players and pet owners are making use of Birdie Tebbetts Field, 62nd Street and Flotilla Drive.
Dog owners and their pets have been the primary field users for several years, with 30 to 50 dog owners per day estimated to be using the field to exercise their dogs.
However, ball players are turning up with more frequency after dog owners last month asked Holmes Beach city commissioners for a policy change to allow them to use the field.
An organized softball game was held at the field Feb. 18 and some dog owners say there was plenty of notice of that event for them to make adjustments.
At other times, a parent and a player or two arrive to use the field, or teams use the field for practice without any notice, leaving dog owners with few options. A sign at the field states, “No dogs permitted during ball-playing activities.”
Some of the dog owners are approaching ball players or their parents to allow sharing the field, while others are avoiding any interaction.
One example came Feb. 21 when Steve Evans and his golden-doodle, Lucy, and Andre Renard, and his yorkie, Polo, yielded the field to a team of young men who came to hold a practice session.
Team organizer Loralie Helgeson said her husband’s team, Hammerhead Pools, was from G.T. Bray, and they were planning to practice.
According to G.T. Bray Park staff, however, the park does not organize sport leagues. The Manatee County parks department instead rents the fields to organizations.
Helgeson said the team plans to practice Tuesday and Thursday evenings at Birdie Tebbetts Field during their season. She said they were told about the field’s availability by a relative residing at Westbay Point & Moorings.
“It’s the next war on the Island,” said Renard, referring to the city commission’s ongoing ball park-dog park discussion.
Evans said commissioners appeared to be working on a solution, and he likes the “idea of a (dog) park on the perimeter.” But he also found merit in not changing anything.
Evans and Renard noted the increased use by ball players from off the Island. Both agreed it would be nice to have notice of any baseball practices or games.
To address such conflicts, the city last month posted new signup boards for ball players. While commissioners discussed having players sign in with the police or city hall, there is yet no policy.
The Feb. 18 Pros vs. Girls game poster is the only event posted at the field thus far.
At a Jan. 31 work session, Commission Chair David Zaccagnino recommended a redesigned field, separating the ball field and creating a fenced-in area for dogs. City staff have been looking into the costs associated with the shared-use proposal.
Last week the city received an $8,291 estimate for a 490-foot-long fence, providing a 28- to 35-foot-wide fenced-in dog exercise area, according to Holmes Beach public works director Joe Duennes
Duennes and Scott Dell, an assistant director of the Anna Maria Island Community Center, walked the field recently, discussing the proposed modification.
“Why not leave it as multi-purpose as possible was the thought,” Dell said after the review with Duennes. It could be used for adult and children’s softball, kickball, as well as Little League baseball for ages 13 and under.
Dell said he favors a 40-foot-wide enclosed dog area, allowing for shade trees and other beautification measures.
Dell said the major cost would be the fence. All other changes could be done with volunteers, he said.
Some field adaptation would be needed, and a shortened field would bring second base into the grass, he said. But after first and third bases are installed, the bags could just be picked up and moved, according to Dell.
He also favored an adjustable dog exercise area.
“My family goes out there now to walk our dog all the time,” Dell said. “We’re always looking for shade when we go to parks, especially in the summer, when it’s hot.”
He said future plans could involve gates being cut for an expanded dog exercise area into the current parking lot area where the materials for an ongoing city stormwater project are located.
“It’s a win, win,” he said of the proposed modification. “I think it makes everyone happy.”
SIDE BAR #1
Liability concerns aired
It’s the elephant in the room.
What would happen if a dog park user was injured by a stray ball in a mixed-use park? What would happen if a ball player was hurt by a dog?
Holmes Beach Commission Chair David Zaccagnino said these are questions he’s afraid to ask. He’s proposed a redesigned ball park with a separate dog exercise area at Birdie Tebbetts Field to provide for dog owner needs and protect the city against liabilities.
Other commissioners shared their concerns Feb. 7 about the use of Birdie Tebbetts Field, 62nd Avenue and Flotilla Drive.
Commissioner Jean Peelen said in researching communities with recreational facilities, she’s learned “the worse thing you can have” is a dog park next to another highly-charged activity, and called for the commission to take an “up-down vote” at the next regular meeting.
Zacaggino countered, “the worse thing you can have is an insurance issue.”
Resident Socko Pearson pointed out that putting dog owners in a fenced area beyond the baseball outfield — homerun territory — would create “an accident waiting to happen.”
Ball park reservation policy
To reserve Birdie Tebbetts Field for baseball use, there’s a $40 fee, insurance requirements to be met and a registration form to fill out at city hall.
The city established a policy for the field in January 2007 to coordinate the use of the ball field with Anna Maria Island Community Center and Manatee County.
The policy outlines a procedure requiring the scheduling of games and practices. Registration is required with the city clerk, who is to manage the field schedule along with dates for upcoming festivals and other events on the open field.
There is no charge for practice games, but dates “do need to be cleared with the city clerk,” according to the policy statement.
The city’s public works department is to be notified by the clerk 48 hours in advance of a game to allow time to prepare the field. The department also is to be notified of scheduled practices.
Liability insurance coverage of $1 million is to be provided to the city for games and practices, and the city is to be named an additional insured.
The procedure with any Manatee County use of the field requires the county to provide special maintenance as necessary in accordance with an interlocal agreement.