Toronto

Adult softball leagues cut from Trinity Bellwoods Park next season for hitting home runs

Adult softball leagues are being cut from diamonds at Trinity Bellwoods Park next season for hitting home runs. The move is already striking out with some players, but the city says growing safety concerns from park-goers is the top priority.

'Repeated reports of balls being hit outside the playing areas' prompted relocation, city says

Adult softball leagues are being moved from Trinity Bellwoods Park next season, the city says, amid safety concerns and a call for more downtown diamond space for youth teams. (Mejini Neskah/Shutterstock)

Adult softball leagues are being cut from diamonds at Trinity Bellwoods Park next season for hitting home runs.

The move is already striking out with some players, but the city says growing safety concerns from park-goers is the top priority. 

"We have received repeated reports of balls being hit outside the playing areas at the diamonds in this park," Jane Arbour, a spokesperson for Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation, said in an email to CBC Toronto. 

The department grants permits for softball leagues to play at Toronto's popular west-end park. The green space is often packed during the summer with picnic goers and dog walkers. 

Players are 'exceeding the skill level,' councillor says

Coun. Mike Layton, whose ward includes Bellwoods, explained the change was proposed by the city's permit office and district manager to address a growing number of complaints over the last five years. 

The diamonds aren't full size, he says, and players are "exceeding the skill level" they were built for.

"Nobody wants to take people's fun away, that's not the intent," he told CBC Toronto. 

"People were just hitting the ball further than what was anticipated and going beyond a pathway in the outfield and entering an area of the park where people were just really hanging out and not expecting to have flying softballs come at them."

Trinity Bellwoods Park is a popular summer gathering place for people in the city's downtown area. (Trinity Bellwoods Block Party 2015/Facebook)

The borders of the diamond's outfields aren't defined. Instead, the field runs into a narrow pedestrian pathway that separates the outfield from the park. ​

The city's decision will ensure that permits are being allocated based on the level of skill and the size of the field, Layton explained. 

'Moving softball players is not the answer'

The change will affect two of Bellwoods' three city-owned ball diamonds — the centre and south fields. But adult leagues will still be able to play on the larger northeast diamond, near the corner of Dundas Street West and Gore Vale Avenue, Arbour says.  

Kathryn Money called the move a "critical" issue for teams who rely on the diamonds and urged the city to find a different way to address concerns, such as exploring another type of softball that doesn't travel as far in the air or offering enforcement help that prevents people from walking into play. 

She is the captain of Crusher 3.0, a co-ed adult softball team that plays at Bellwoods on Sundays. The team is part of the West End Adult Softball League, or Queen Street Baseball League, which has held permits for the diamonds for 22 years. 

 People are not respecting the space.- Kathryn Money

"Moving softball players is not the answer," said Money. She wants players and park-goers to coexist and claims the issues aren't just caused by home run hits. She believes park users need to take more responsibility for their safety.  

"You do need a large area to play softball, but people are not respecting the space," she said.

Many people cut through, set up picnic blankets or play other sports in the outfield during games. "In that case, they're hopefully taking the precautions and ducking and covering their heads," she said, noting they aren't always aware. 

Softball players are also at risk of injury from park-goers who refuse to move from the outfield and cut through the plays, says Money. (CBC)

Last month, Money sent a letter to Layton's office explaining the injury risk players face as they attempt to dodge people lounging in the outfield.  

"A lot of times people choose not to move and that's very dangerous," she said. "We're terrified because we're trying to make sure that everyone makes it home safely."

But in a city stretched for park space Layton believes conflicts between softball players and park-goers is becoming more commonplace as a growing number of people are fighting for a patch of green. 

"The park is a lot busier than it was 10 years ago," he said. "We have tried to make sure there's some kind of balance between the organized league sports and people just wanting to go out there and enjoy the park."

The reason there are those regulations is so that when people are playing, they are doing it in a safe and respectful way.- Anna-Maria Mountfort, resident

Anna-Maria Mountfort says she was hit by foul ball last summer while walking on the sidewalk behind the infield.  

She lives in the area and believes the diamonds are a "risk to anyone that's around them," and blames the city for granting permits to adult softball leagues knowing the space doesn't meet Softball Canada's regulations.  

"The reason there are those regulations is so that when people are playing, they are doing it in a safe and respectful way and that people can be around them," she told CBC Toronto. 

City working to 'relocate' leagues

The city has already started working with longtime permit holders to "relocate" them to nearby diamonds, says Arbour.

At the moment, the alternative diamonds include: Dovercourt Park, Coronation Park, Stanley Park and Christie Pits Park because their league roster isn't "fully prescribed," Layton explained.

He vowed that every team will receive a permit for other spaces. 

Toronto Mutual Fund Softball League was part of the initial ball diamond switch. President Jeremy Swampillai says they were notified in January and have been playing at the Dovercourt Park diamonds instead this season. 

Money claims the league she plays in previously lost their permit for Bickford Park, another downtown diamond near Bloor and Grace streets. What ends up happening, she says, is teams have to stack their games. 

"You wind up having to have two games back-to-back, which then impacts the quality of it because you have to be earlier, you have other teams around you," she said.  

Diamonds to host youth teams

Minor baseball associations have also reported booming registration numbers tied to the Blue Jays' post-season runs that inspired a whole new generation of players since 2015. 

In order to meet this "huge" demand, Layton says the city has chosen to prioritize youth games in the downtown area. 

"They're also competing for the same space, but they can work on a smaller diamond whereas the adult leagues can't," he said.

"The ball just doesn't travel as far in the youth plays because of the skill level of the players."

With files from Lorenda Reddekopp

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