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Teams' home turf is away

Two Oldsmar children's baseball teams play outside the city limits. Available fields don't comply with Amateur Athletic Union rules, and the city won't remodel the fields.

By AARON SHAROCKMAN
Published October 6, 2003

OLDSMAR - They have "Oldsmar" stamped across their chests, but two children's baseball teams play their home games in Hillsborough County instead of down the street.

Lisa DiSanto knows the route to her son's home field well, but it's not easy on her gas tank.

"Forest Lakes Boulevard to Race Track Road to Gunn Highway to Dale Mabry," said DiSanto, whose son Justin plays for the Oldsmar Thunder 11-and-under baseball team - in Lutz. "It cracks me up. We live a half a mile from Canal Park and we have to drive a half an hour to play our home games."

DiSanto contends the two teams, which compete across the state in the Amateur Athletic Union, or AAU, were essentially removed from Oldsmar's fields in the past year.

No room they were told, she said.

So DiSanto threw a fastball right at the city's chin to get its attention. Call it her brush-back pitch.

Before Justin helped to present a Little League trophy to the city during a council meeting last month, DiSanto lashed out at council members and Mayor Jerry Beverland.

"Why are we being treated like second-class citizens?" DiSanto asked. ". . . These boys are in a sense being kicked out of their home fields and being told they are not wanted in the city of Oldsmar."

Since January, AAU coaches have been negotiating with the city to keep the teams playing in Oldsmar. The AAU players had outgrown the Little League fields and wanted the city to modify one for the teams' use. It would mean lengthening the base paths 10 feet and moving the pitcher's mound back.

But the city, which had just built the fields three years ago, didn't want to make major changes. Instead, the city said it offered the AAU teams practice time on the small fields and game time on one of Canal Park's two adult softball fields.

Parks and Recreation director Lynn Rives said those fields are available on Sundays, the day the teams play most of their games.

"We offered them what we have available," Rives said. "They chose not to take it. Everybody pretty much knows what days are available and which days we can lease out."

But DiSanto said the city wasn't willing to adapt the adult softball fields to meet the AAU specifications, either, and the two sides haven't talked since July 31. She said the teams would consider playing on the big fields, but the fences are too far away for 11- and 12-year-olds. As a result, a ground ball hit between two outfielders can go for a home run. Moreover, the bases are too far apart and the pitching mound isn't close enough to home plate.

Meanwhile, the parks both AAU teams play at now in Hillsborough County are adapted Little League fields, DiSanto said.

There are 10 baseball fields at Canal Park, which sits on land owned by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, also known as Swiftmud. The park also has three football/soccer fields as well as a BMX bicycle course that opened last year. The city can't build any more fields, Beverland said, which means everyone must make do with what's currently in place.

"Do you think I wanted that BMX course in the front there?" Beverland asked. "That thing's ugly. But it was the only place it could go. If there was land to build on, I'd build another field immediately."

For now, the 11-and-under team plays in Lutz and the 12-and-under team plays in Tampa at Skyway Park, DiSanto said. The teams practice on fields at Sheffield Park in Oldsmar, but can't play games there either, DiSanto said, because there are no lights or restrooms.

Most of the AAU players also play Little League in Oldsmar and get to use Canal Park for those games and practices, DiSanto said. AAU games and practices should be treated no differently, she said.

Beverland said he wants to keep the AAU team playing in Oldsmar, but he's not about to kick someone else off a field to accomplish it. He and Rives both said they will listen to DiSanto and try to work something out.

Meanwhile, the fall season filled with car rides for Oldsmar AAU baseballers is turning sour. Not only are they playing at a home away from home, they're losing. Going into last weekend, the 11-and-under team was 3-5 and the 12-and-under team was 1-4.

- Aaron Sharockman can be reached at 727 771-4303 or asharockman@sptimes.com

[Last modified October 6, 2003, 01:49:36]


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