A field of their own: Bloomington parks and rec looks looks to find right balance for baseball, soccer

Advocates for soccer and baseball are both now contending for the turf at the ball diamond known as Field 6 at Bloomington’s Winslow Sports Complex.

Towards the end of Tuesday’s meeting of the city’s four-member board of park commissioners, several representatives from Bloomington Football Club (BFC) and Monroe County Senior League Baseball Association (MCSLBA) spoke from the public mic during general commentary time.

No action on the use of Field 6 was taken by the board on Tuesday. But earlier in the meeting, the board did approve an addendum to the partnership agreement between the city and BFC for the use of Field 5, which the board had previously approved at its March meeting.

A mix-up in the versions of the agreement that were exchanged between parks staff, BFC and the city’s legal department, had led the board to approve a version of the agreement in March that the two sides had not actually agreed on. That’s why the addendum was needed.

Field 5 and Field 6 are the ball diamonds in the southern part of the complex. Fields 1–4 form a cluster to the north.

Field 6 is currently home to the baseball association. But BFC is looking to expand its use of the complex to Field 6. That expanded use is based on growth of the club’s participation of around a dozen players in 2016 to 255 players in 2023.

BFC has sketched out a vision for its use of Field 6, which has been circulating in a document that drew objections from the baseballers for at least a couple of reasons.

The document talks about conversion of Field 6 to grass to be used for soccer. The document also calls for a decision by the parks board in April or May.

Speaking at Tuesday’s meeting against the idea of converting Field 6 for soccer use, especially on the proposed timeline, was Richard Field. He told the board that his two children have played baseball at Winslow’s Field 6 for the last couple of years. Field said converting Winslow’s Field 6 for soccer use would likely mean the end of the senior baseball league for ages 13 and up.

Field said he has nothing against soccer, adding “I’m not going to speak negatively about soccer as a sport or anything like that.” Field thinks there are other options within the city limits for additional space to play soccer.

Also addressing the board in support of baseball was Ashley Pirani, who is likely familiar as a member of the MCCSC school board—but she was not speaking in that role. Pirani was speaking as a new coach with the Bloomington Junior Baseball League and as a former baseball player.

Pirani objected to claims that by reserving space for baseball, the city is “catering to boys.” Pirani said, “Currently at Winslow, which includes Field 6, we have 12 percent female population there—so we have girls playing baseball on those fields right now.” She added, “They have been for a long time.”

In support of using Winslow Field 6 for soccer was Kathleen Field (no relation to Richard Field), who pointed out that soccer is the “world sport.” She continued, saying, “You don’t need a lot of equipment. There’s not a high barrier to entry.” What’s missing in Bloomington are the facilities that are needed to increase access, she said.

When Joe Fuschetto spoke, as a member of the BFC parent committee and a coach, he did not take a direct shot on the goal of securing Field 6 for soccer, but instead dropped back a bit: “What we’re asking for at this exact moment is a committee with the parks department…” Fuschetto called it an “exploratory committee” composed of “all stakeholders, including baseball representatives…to get more opportunities for soccer players in the city of Bloomington.”

By the end of the meeting, when public commentary came, board member Jim Whitlach had departed. Ellen Rodkey’s absence meant the four-member board was reduced to a sub-quorum number of two—Israel Herrera and Kathleen Mills. That meant no board action could be taken.

But Bloomington parks and recreation director Paula McDevitt indicated staff could put an item on the board’s May agenda that could start to address the question of additional space for soccer.

McDevitt said, “There is a path forward.” She added, “We appreciate the comments this afternoon from all sports that were represented.”

Tuesday’s board meeting offered a glimpse into Bloomington’s past, for both soccer and baseball.

Speaking in support of BFC was Aaron Stolberg, who told the board he grew up in Bloomington playing soccer. Finding quality fields to practice on was always a struggle, he said. Stolberg mentioned that he’d earned a scholarship to play college soccer, and played for a time with a professional team in Austin, Texas.

Stolberg played his high school soccer at Bloomington South in the early 1990s, and went on to play for Northwestern University. That meant when Stolberg’s NU Wildcats were scheduled against the Indiana University Hoosiers, he was matched up against a squad that included former Bloomington South Panthers Todd Yeagley and Ben Londergan.

As for local baseball nostalgia, Andy Hamilton had all the bases covered. He told the board, “My family stretches from Salt Creek to Grant Street to Clear Creek.”

Hamilton told the board his grandpa had sold the land to the city to finish the Winslow Winslow Sports Complex—what used to be a cow pasture is now the right field corner of Field 5. Alexander described coaching his son and watching the sport thrive in the 1980s.

Hamilton described what people did for entertainment in that era: “People didn’t go to the mall. They went to Winslow Sports Complex… It was the coolest place in town!” To lose Field 6 as a baseball venue, Hamilton said, would be “devastating.”

8 thoughts on “A field of their own: Bloomington parks and rec looks looks to find right balance for baseball, soccer

    1. I speak as a baseball parent, so take that bias into account. First, I hate the whole “soccer is the world sport.” How is that an excuse for taking away opportunities to play baseball? Cruel and illogical argument. And baseball is also beloved internationally, believe it or not. Second, don’t we have something called the Karst Farm SOCCER complex? An entire complex for soccer. Our town offers two fields for teens to play on. One is now used for soccer (Field 5). As kids get older they need bigger fields because their stronger arms hit the balls farther, they can run longer between bases, and they need the pitchers mound to be farther from home plate. The fields 1-4 are maxed out by age 12. Surely the city can find another space or BFC can figure out how to practice at the soccer complex. We should be able to accommodate both sports.

  1. It is not right to take away heavily used fields from baseball and softball. We do have many open spaces in Bloomington that can be used for soccer. Both sports can be accommodated.

  2. The speaker referenced at the parks board meeting for the soccer petition versus use of baseball field is actually andy hamilton, not Andrew Alexander 😊

  3. There is some incomplete reporting in this article. The City of Bloomington maintains 13 baseball/softball fields inside city limits and zero soccer fields. This is a result of an agreement in the early 1990s that the County would provide soccer facilities at Karst while the City would provide baseball facilities at Twin Lakes, Winslow and others. What has happened in the last 30 years, nationally and locally, is that youth soccer participation rates have dramatically increased and youth baseball rates have substantially declined. In its heyday Monroe County Senior League Baseball had more than 250 participants using fields 5 and 6. It now has 4 teams and approximately 50 participants, while BFC has over 250 participants (aside from the 700 or so participants at Cutters). BFC utilizes field 5 at a much higher rate, and therefore more rental fees for the City than baseball does for field 6. Additionally, pursuant to the Cutters agreement with Monroe County they have exclusive rights to use Karst for soccer, which shuts out BFC. What is more, for many if not most BFC parents’ location and accessibility at Winslow is important. For parents with multiple children or a competitive players, it is not uncommon to have practice 4 to 5 times a week, the often 30 minute drive each way to Karst ads up. The commute also makes the sport entirely inaccessible to many with limited means and to working parents. While it is admirable that about 12% of baseball players on Field 6 are girls, about 35% of BFC players are girls. Bloomington is increasingly diverse and international, which ultimately fuels the need for increased soccer facilities. Nationally, about 20% of youth soccer players speak a language other than English at home, and because of Bloomington’s international character it is not uncommon on any given BFC team to have multiple languages spoken at home based. It is truly a delight to see the faces of young immigrant players who may not speak much English when they realize they can communicate with their feet and a soccer ball to their teammates rather than words. While baseball is popular in some Latin American and Asian countries, soccer by any measure is the only true international sport. It really is unimaginably massive in popularity. The last World Series averaged 12 million viewers, 1.5 billion people watched the World Cup final (3.3 billion people, or approximately half the world, watched at least one world cup game in 2022). As a city that prides itself on its diversity and openness to the world and refugees in particular, it is important we welcome them with accessibility to the world’s game.

    All that said, this should not be the discussion of baseball vs. soccer. The discussion should be how do we get more opportunities for youth sports participants. I do not believe there is any desire by BFC or Monroe County Senior League Baseball to kill the other. If the City of Bloomington is willing to invest enough resources there are many solutions that could be a win-win for both parties. It only takes a drive to Columbus, Lafayette, Westfield or Carmel to see how far behind Bloomington is in what facilities it provides its youth sport participants. It is time the City starts to explore these solutions and how to deploy resources to meet this need, whether that means new fields or modifications to existing facilities for either or both sports.

    1. I think it is worth checking the comment here that states Cutters has exclusive field rights to Karst. I do not believe this is true and BFC could work with the county to use those fields.

      I’m a huge soccer fan and my kids play. I’d love to see the city expand more soccer opportunities, but I disagree that there needs to be a targeting of Field 6 at Winslow. I appreciated hearing the comments at Parks Board from the baseball folks and how important Field 6 is to keep. I hope overall everyone can see that it’s not an easy solution and there are good conversations to be had moving forward. I do hope to see more soccer opportunities in city limits in the future!

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