With the closing of their field, the Dixie Boys Leagues have no where to play

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 15, 2001

If you ever wanted a Field of Dreams in your backyard, you might want to give Natchez City Hall or the Natchez Recreation Department a call.

&uot;If someone has a flat piece of ground that’s willing to let us do something Let’s see it we could work something out,&uot; said Natchez mayor F.L. &uot;Hank&uot; Smith.

Smith is anxious to look into real estate because the 13- and 14-year old Dixie Boys Leagues’ field at Liberty Park will soon be plowed over for the Natchez Trace Parkway Extension. And because those leagues wonit have a place to play next year.

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The Natchez 14-year-old All-Stars’ victory over the Summit All-Stars on Friday night in the District 4 Tournament marked the last game at the park, which has served as the Dixie Boys League’s home field for about 10 years. Before that, the field was a softball field for women’s and men’s leagues.

&uot;It’s been a great field,&uot; said Recreation Council member Joe Eidt, who also coaches the 14-year-old All-Stars. &uot;A lot of work has been put in to renovate it as a baseball field.

&uot;Itis going to be sad to see it go.&uot;

But starting in the next couple months, the fences and bleachers will disappear to make way for road crews to begin work. As they start to clear a path for the Trace, Dixie Boys commissioner Ray Simpson will help with the search to find a place for his leagues’ teams to play baseball next year. He hasn’t had much time to look because of the tournament.

&uot;I havenit been beating the bushes, but I will after (the tournament),&uot; said Simpson.

The problem is that there aren’t too many places available for the leagues’ to play next season. The area known as &uot;the beanfield&uot; by Natchez High was picked as the spot for a recreational complex.

The proposed complex would have eight baseball and six softball fields, which would house all baseball leagues in the county, from T.M. Jennings to Dixie Youth, Boys and Majors to the girls softball teams.

Soccer fields, a natatorium and a community center are also planned.

But the National Park Service demanded that an archaeological study of the beanfield be conducted before field construction could begin because the area was a French settlement during colonial times.

The survey is scheduled to take place in the coming weeks, and Smith is hoping for results by October.

&uot;I don’t think we could get the field ready with the timeline on the archeological survey, negotiating the lease and getting the wording of the lease worked out,&uot; Smith said. &uot;After thatis done, I donit know. I don’t think there’s enough time to begin building a field for that age group to play on next summer.&uot;

After the survey is completed, the Park Service will give the results. Even if nothing of historical importance is found at the site, the city and the Park Service must negotiate a lease for the land to change hands.

&uot;I canit imagine a 13- and 14-year-old field being built by next year,&uot; Smith said. &uot;I’m shifting gears and concentrating on finding a location somewhere to do one on a temporary basis.&uot;

So Smith is looking for alternate venues for the leagues to play ball. One obvious suggestion would be North Natchez Park, where T.M. Jennings plays its games. But that league uses different dimensions for basepaths and pitching distance.

There aren’t many other options beyond that.

&uot;I havenit found one yet,&uot; Smith said. &uot;It’s not an easy situation, particularly when you don’t have space to do it.&uot;

Eidt said one option is playing games in Vidalia, but he would rather like Natchez to have a home field.

Ward six alderman Jake Middleton is holding out hope that the survey is completed soon and that ground can soon be broken on the complex at the beanfield so a few fields can be built by next summer.

&uot;It wouldnit be a completed complex like we want to do,&uot; said Middleton, later adding, &uot;It may not be pretty and dressed up as we want it to be.&uot;

But that would be fine with most people, as the worst case scenario could be devastating to the leagues: a lost season of baseball.

&uot;That is foremost in my mind and in my plans: to keep them from losing a season.&uot;

Even if it means playing in someoneis backyard.