The Coast News Group
The YMCA baseball fields are safe for Little Leaguers for the near future. Photo by Ellen Wright

YMCA plans mean Little League can stay

ENCINITAS—Encinitas Little League will be able to call the Magdalena Ecke YMCA fields home for most of its operation for the foreseeable future, as the YMCA’s recently announced expansion plans will allow for the baseball organization to stay.

The YMCA announced April 17 that its board after several months of discussion had voted on its expansion plans, which will eliminate one of the four baseball fields to make way for parking and indoor soccer fields, but preserve and renovate the other fields.

The plans mirror a proposal offered by the Little League organization last month, which offered to relocate its baseball program for older members in exchange for operations to continue on the other fields.

YMCA Executive Director Susan Hight, who was out of town attending a conference this week, said she would respond to The Coast News in an email. The Coast News will update the story online when Hight’s responses are available.

Current Little League officials said they weren’t involved in negotiations over the expansion, but were pleased with the outcome.

“We are certainly happy with their plans,” said Robert Wade, the president of the Encinitas Little League, which has 542 players this season. “We are confident that with the proposed changes and with some changes to how we schedule games, we will be able to keep the players in the league playing together in the same location for years to come, and that is part of what makes our league pretty special.”

The future of the YMCA fields had been at the center of a controversy between the city, the YMCA and the little league as a result of a poison-pill 30-day termination clause that was inserted into the most recent iteration of the field lease arrangement between the entities.

The clause worried Little League officials, who feared the organization could be displaced to usher in the YMCA expansion plans with little time to relocate.

The YMCA then ensured the league that play would go on through 2015, but uncertainty still loomed beyond that point.

Under the YMCA’s new expansion plans, field No. 1, which is used by little league and the Encinitas Soccer League, among other organzations, will be converted into three indoor soccer arenas and a parking lot for 180 cars; field No. 2 will remain unchanged; and fields 3 and 4 will be converted into multi-sports fields that can accommodate both soccer and baseball games.

Wade said little league will likely relocate the junior division to the new Encinitas Community Park.

One organization that will be hurt by the move is the Encinitas Soccer League, which will see its practice time on lighted fields pared by nearly half. Currently, the league can accommodate two, 90-minute training sessions for 27 teams. With the elimination of field one, that number drops to 15 teams, with six having their training dropped to 75 minutes, said Rick Lochner, the club’s interim president.

With the renovation of fields No. 3 and 4 occurring during the second phase of the expansion plans, Lochner said the impact will be even greater early on.

“It definitely impacts us,” he said. “We are hoping that the city, since they boosted the priority of the Leo Mullen Sports Park project (lighting and turf), will help us make up the loss for that field. We will know by May.”

Lochner is referring to the city’s capital improvement budget that the city council recently voted to include potential field lights and artificial turf at Leo Mullen, the soccer club’s home field, in the budget discussions.

Wade said he understands the position the plans have put the soccer organization in.

“I feel bad for them, I don’t know what I could have done or said to change anything,” Wade said. “It seemed like the YMCA was dead set on expanding.”