William Swantek, 15, and Tim Cottrell, 15, play catch July 31 at Birdie Tebbetts Field in Holmes Beach. The players were visiting from Hillsborough County, and are teammates with the Riverview Rockets, a traveling baseball team. The players said they’d like to use the Holmes Beach field. “It’s a lot better than what we have,” William said. Islander Photo: Jennifer Glenfield
There may soon be bigger news than the dog park at the field north of Holmes Beach City Hall.
The field is named Birdie Tebbetts Field, and was once frequented on game nights and weekends by families and youth baseball players. But it now remains mostly abandoned, save regular maintenance by the city’s public works department.
Holmes Beach resident and Manatee West Hurricanes team manager Andy Procter brought the city a proposal in October 2013 that could revive the field.
Human resource specialist Mary Buonagura said then she would look into grants for field improvements. She addressed the commissioners on the issue during their July 22 meeting.
“We have a great opportunity here to attract families, and we have professional teams that fund these kinds of things out of their foundations all the time,” said Buonagura.
Buonagura said that with improvements to the field covered by grants, cost to the city could be minimal.
Commissioners were split between support and apprehension.
“What obligation will we have after this?” asked Commissioner Marvin Grossman.
Buonagura said maintaining the field would be comparable to now.
“It’s not being used now because it’s not set up for kids. I do believe in baseball. Travel baseball is huge. If we’re trying to bring community back, I think this is a great way to do it,” said Commission Chair Judy Titsworth.
Titsworth recalled the field was built under Mayor Carol Whitmore’s supervision with some funding from Manatee County.
It was designed for Junior League players.
In March, city attorney Patricia Petruff sent a 120-day notice to the Manatee County Board of Commissioners to terminate the 1998 interlocal agreement between the city and the county.
Under the agreement, Manatee County provided funding for the construction of the field.
Over the years, dog owners began to use the secured, fenced-in field for pet exercise. The city then segregated the dogs, and carved out a dog park from the outfield. Also, the flagpole, Birdie Tebbetts Field sign and the scoreboard were taken down. The sign and flagpole were donated by Tebbetts’ friends and family.
“I think it’s a travesty we have a facility we’re not using. I don’t think we have to spend the money (from the city’s budget) to get this done,” said Mayor Carmel Monti. “It’s a great way to bring community back.”
Procter proposed 10 weekends of youth baseball tournaments from September to December, leading up to an Anna Maria Fall Classic championship.
The team has been searching for a new field for practices and games, and he said he thought of the field in Holmes Beach because several of the Manatee West Hurricane team players live on Anna Maria Island.
Procter put together an economic impact statement and estimated each event would bring at least $18,000 in the offseason months, with families staying on the island and frequenting local businesses.
The proposed improvements to the field include adding 15,000 square feet of sod, a movable pitcher’s mound, batting cages and a shell walkway to the restrooms. His preliminary bid for the work is $25,800. However, Buonagura said at the meeting, Proctor thinks the improvements might fall under the initial bid.
The commission agreed to allow Buonagura to pursue donations and grant opportunities.
Commissioner David Zaccagnino said, “People don’t want to go to these places out east because there’s nothing for the other family members to do. But there is here. It’s the best time of year to bring people here in October and September, and I think we all want to revitalize some type of community and family atmosphere.”
Birdie Tebbetts: A baseball man
George “Birdie” Tebbetts was a professional baseball player, playing for 17 years for American League teams the Detroit Tigers, Boston Red Sox and the Cleveland Indians.
Following his career as a player, Tebbetts managed teams in the National League and served as an executive for the Atlanta Braves.
He moved to Holmes Beach in the 1960s.
Tebbetts served the newly named Major League Baseball Miami Marlins as an executive scout, helping in 1992 to forge the 1997 World Series team. He retired in his 80s. He continued to be involved in baseball and, before his death in March 1999, said he hoped to be remembered as a “baseball man.”
His memorial in Holmes Beach was attended by MLB team and league representatives, as well as some family of Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams.
He had many friends and admirers on Anna Maria Island, where he and wife Mary raised three daughters and a son.
The Holmes Beach Junior League field was officially named for Tebbetts by city proclamation in 1998 and an opening celebration was held in March 2001.