Fielding questions on Boston parks
ne thing ballplayers sometimes take for granted are the baseball fields on which they play. In the city of Boston, fields can be scarce for amateur adult players, which makes Paul McCaffrey the most valuable player for hundreds of teams. McCaffrey is the director of permitting for the Boston Parks and Recreation Department, which primarily assigns fields. Whether your team wins or loses, or even plays at all, comes down to when and where McCaffrey pencils you onto the schedule. For the past quarter-century, McCaffrey — who has lived in Mission Hill, Brighton and West Roxbury — has been providing clean, green, safe and accessible open space in more than 2,200 acres of park land throughout Boston, including parks, playgrounds and athletic fields. If you need a permit to play anything from baseball to rugby, McCaffrey’s your guy. Boston’s fields are tough to land for amateur teams. Permit applications for the spring are needed by Feb. 1 — making it nearly impossible for unestablished teams to apply. First preference is given to Boston Public Schools, followed by youth athletics, followed by resident adult leagues, and lastly, amateur leagues filled with nonresidents. Leagues such as the Boston Park League and Yawkey League are grandfathered in, based on their history with the Parks Department. Newer leagues such as the Boston Men’s Baseball League (established in 1988) and the Royal Rooter League (established in the past decade) get last dibs.
Even once field permits are secured, paying for them can be a team’s deepest expense. A typical team in the Boston MSBL pays $1,250 a year for access to fields. As in previous years, weekend fields are free in 2012, because they are not lit. But for night games, the price goes up. The cost to light a field is $100 per hour for non-residents, $300 per game. This cost is 50 percent higher than it was just two years ago, making this cost a barrier for some players. If 51 percent of a team’s roster is residents of the city, cost is just $25 per hour. Because of the scarcity and price of fields, the fate of a team’s baseball season often lies in the hands of the director of permitting. I had a chance to talk to McCaffrey about what goes into his planning, and what he deals with during a typical baseball season. Even for him, it isn’t all fun and games.
New England Baseball Journal: How many organizations do you assign baseball fields for in a given season? McCaffrey: “Last season, we had 43 adult organizations and 111 youth organizations assigned for field rentals.” NEBJ: How many games are played on Boston Parks and Rec fields each year? McCaffrey: “We had 2,564 adult bookings last year, and 8,421 youth bookings.” NEBJ: Field costs are one of the more expensive items for a league. Beyond grooming the fields and paying for lights, what are the expenses associated with running a field that people may not think about? McCaffrey: “Overhead for the depart-
ment, including human resources, materials and costs associated with energy.” NEBJ: What are some of the biggest challenges you face when assigning fields? McCaffrey: “Everyone wants the same time. So we stick by the deadline of Feb. 1 as the cut-off for baseball permit applications. Also, weather and rainouts. We work with individual leagues and try to fit games in where we need to reschedule. Other challenges are lack of simple courtesies, like teams not cleaning up after themselves, staying long after the game is complete, illegal parking and irrational attempts to fix fields.”
go into that decision-making? McCaffrey: “I do not schedule other sports on baseball fields during the traditional baseball season. Most of the activities are not permitted; they are casual play. Our permitting software cannot double book a field.”
NEBJ: With what regularity are fields maintained during the season, and what does that consist of? Are there certain fields that get better treatment? McCaffrey: “The Park Maintenance Division is managed by Bernie Lynch. He has a group of dedicated professionals that work daily during the baseball season to get fields ready. Some fields have three games on them during any given day. High school from NEBJ: Many teams try to 2:30 p.m. to 6 p.m., followed groom their field after it rains, by youth baseball from 6 p.m. before their game. While teams to 8 p.m., and then adults from are only trying to make the 8 p.m. to 10:45 p.m. I think we fields playable, I can imagine it McCaffrey do a good job trying to spread does more long-term harm than the wealth when it comes to maintaingood. How do you keep leagues in line? ing the fields in the City. Weather and McCaffrey: “We have communicaexisting conditions play a role.” tion with league officials in place, and use progressive discipline. First, there NEBJ: How big is your staff? are warnings, followed by suspension, McCaffrey: “In addition to me, Deband ultimately field revocation.” by Skinner is administrative assistant, NEBJ: As the new season approaches, and does the majority of data entry. players wonder why the schedule comes John Bailey is the special events manout so late. What are some of the factors ager, and he handles one-time events, that cause permits to be assigned so close such as concerts, fairs, and walks.” to the beginning of the season? I also asked McCaffrey if he watchMcCaffrey: “For the most part, it is bees “Parks and Recreation” on NBC, cause of individual leagues scheduling. and what he thought of it. He doesn’t Individual teams have conflicts. If just watch it. He’s too busy getting real one league gets in their schedule late, it parks ready. has a domino effect on all other leagues.” NEBJ: Under what circumstances are non-baseball sports assigned baseball fields during the season, and what factors
Brett Rudy is the founder of the Boston Amateur Baseball Network. Follow him on Twitter at @bostonbaseball.
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May 2012 baseballjournal.com 33
Ballplayers sometimes take for granted the baseball fields on which they play. In the city of Boston, fields can be scarce, which makes Paul...