Instead of watching March Madness this past weekend, six Bellefonte baseball players spent Saturday and Sunday ankle-deep in mud at Governor’s Park — the home to their “new” ballpark.
The Red Raiders took it upon themselves to rake the infield and spread bags of quick-dry for about five hours at the public park’s John Montgomery Ward Field. Sophomore second baseman Nick Capparelle even brought dirt from home to create a pair of makeshift bullpen mounds because, Bellefonte parents contend, that’s the new reality for the Red Raiders.
“The boys worked on the field because no one else did it,” said Mike McAndrew, father of Bellefonte outfielder David McAndrew. “If it wasn’t for them doing it, they would not be playing here.”
When Rogers Stadium, Bellefonte’s football and track venue, was renovated and expanded for about $7 million, it consumed the school’s baseball field. Now, Governor’s Park is the home of a team that won a state title just three years ago. And to many parents and friends of the program, the current state of the facilities is unacceptable — even if Bellefonte employees did at least line the field Monday morning, ahead of the home opener against Tyrone.
Still, changes should be coming to Governor’s Park. On Tuesday night, the Bellefonte school board approved ELA Group, Inc. — an engineering and landscaping architecture company — to create a concept plan that would identify “improvements to the existing baseball field and amenities supporting the field” at Governor’s Park. Those potential improvements would address ADA compliance, spectator seating, concessions, dugouts, a permanent scoreboard and press box, among other needs.
But that doesn’t exactly help the baseball team now. And there are plenty worried about when the school will implement those changes.
“It’s part of what they have planned for the future,” said Jeff Wetzler, president of the Bellefonte Baseball Booster Club. “Now, when the future starts, I don’t know. That to me is the biggest thing.”
Prior to approval of the concept plan creation, ELA put the estimated cost of the changes at $600,000. But Bellefonte’s director of physical plant, Aaron Barto, said not to “hang your hat on that” figure. Meanwhile, Deb Moore, Bellefonte’s assistant athletic director, said Monday that the Red Raiders will play at Governor’s Park “until the cows come home.” “This is going to be our new home,” she added. And Moore, who has heard concerns from parents invested in the program, maintained confidence that facility issues will be taken care of.
“We’re addressing them as we move along,” Moore said. “It’s going to take a little bit. But we’ll address them.”
Wetzler, the booster club president, has no issues with what’s inside the white lines at Governor’s Park. He commended the efforts of his son, Ashton, along with Capparelle, David McAndrew, CJ Funk, Bobby Marsh and Colton Burd, the players who worked on the field over the weekend. Wetzler also complimented Bellefonte native Joe Menna and his group of volunteers, who have kept up with the field — which, prior to Monday, was used primarily for County League and Legion games.
But Wetzler believes the infrastructure of Governor’s Park needs serious work.
Outside of a small set of bleachers behind home plate and minimal pavilion seating, the viewing capabilities are, in Wetzler’s words, “extremely limited.” The school put a new roof on the first-base dugout, which featured holes — but there are still drainage issues. The fencing down the first- and third-base lines is in need of repair, and an open on-deck circle is a safety concern; the backstop fencing stops at the on-deck circle, meaning a foul ball could hit the player warming up or fly into the crowd.
At the field, there is no electricity, no lighting, no concession stands and no permanent scoreboard. On Monday, Bellefonte used a portable scoreboard that did not show balls, strikes or outs. Aside from one small netted area, there’s no real batting cage. And if not for Capparelle’s dirt, pitchers would be warming up off the flat ground.
Mollie Funk, mother of CJ, tried to put things in perspective. “At least they have a field,” she said. “At least they have something.” But to some, that isn’t enough.
Wetzler understands why Bellefonte decided to expand Rogers Stadium; he said the football field and track “desperately” needed to be upgraded. Still, it’s a tough pill to swallow for a team that captured its first PIAA crown in 2016 and boasts nine District 6 titles.
“It’s extremely disappointing that we were the program that was displaced,” the president of the booster club said.
Added David McAndrew’s father, Mike: “You would think that we could get a better facility.”
That, of course, could be coming. While Governor’s Park is the home of Bellefonte baseball for the near and distant future, Moore and the school district don’t foresee its current state remaining the same. That’s why ELA Group was brought in and approved. The next step for the school board is to review whatever suggestions and plans the architecture firm presents and go from there.
But for now, Wetzler and the Bellefonte parents are in the dark about the baseball team’s facilities.
“My hope that there are kids currently in the Bellefonte school district that will have a great place to play baseball. And there will be a great place for people to watch baseball and enjoy baseball,” Wetzler said. “I don’t expect to come in here next week and be playing in Yankee Stadium. But at the same time, I look around at other schools we play against, and unfortunately we’ve dropped way, way back. We had a great place to call home, and we’ve taken a pretty big step back.”