By Ryan Cornell
MIDDLETOWN -- Earlier this week, town officials got a first look at a concept of the new baseball field project proposed for the Middletown town park.
The project proposes renovating the existing softball field into a dual-sport baseball diamond, adding another baseball diamond behind it and constructing a 24-space parking lot at the town park on Senseney Avenue.
The project could be completed as early as next spring, according to the proposal presented at a work session on Tuesday. It would be fully funded by Team 84 Athletes, a Winchester-based nonprofit that gives back to the community through sports-related projects and camps.
Presenting at the work session, Shawn Hibbard, founder of Team 84 Athletes, said they try to make an impact in areas that don't have as many youth initiatives.
"The town of Middletown was perfect because you have a softball field, but you really can't play any games on it, not from a competitive level," he said. "And bringing baseball back to this area, we figured the Middletown Cannons [a proposed new team in the Amateur Athletic Union baseball league] would be able to compete with other county teams as well as be able to provide additional higher level play for kids as well as have fundraisers and tournaments and stuff for the town."
He said Team 84 Athletes has already set $50,000 aside for the project.
A chairman of the board at Legacy Christian Academy, Hibbard said the fields could also be used for the Stephens City high school's sports teams, and the town could generate revenue from charging schools to use the field.
"I think once this is all said and done, it's going to be a draw for people, especially in the town," he said.
Most of the officials at the work session expressed support in approving the project, but said the proposal would have to go through the proper processes first.
In a phone call on Friday, Planning Commission member Mark Brown said he liked the idea of adding more sports fields, but disagreed with the location.
He argued that there wouldn't be enough parking and would create too much traffic and noise for a residential area.
"The folks who live down there [by the town park] have a right to keep the pastoral view they had, the peace and quiet of the park" he said.
He said the floodplain off Cougill Road across the highway from Lord Fairfax Community College would serve as a better and more spacious home for a sports park.
"I think the proposal for a multi-community sports field is outstanding, but it's like putting a square peg in a round hole," he said. "It doesn't fit into a single community town park."
Middletown Mayor Charles Harbaugh was in favor of the concept, and said the fields could be used for pickup games, tournaments and by town citizens.
"Anybody knows that a baseball diamond isn't just a baseball diamond," he said. "It's a marketing tool...people are going to come to Middletown when they wouldn't have before. I think it's a win-win."
He described the financial backing from Team 84 Athletes as a blessing.
"It's like the saying, 'If you build it, they will come,'" Harbaugh said. "It's a 'Field of Dreams' one-liner, and it's true here, this is the field of our dreams."
The baseball field project is an agenda item for the town's planning commission meeting at 7 p.m. Monday. A public hearing will be held about the issue next month.
Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or email@example.com