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Field of Dreams project under way

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By Jonathan Stark

Tuesday night’s meeting of the Field of Dreams Committee was meant to update the community on the status of the project to revitalize area baseball and softball fields. The hour-and-forty-minute round table may have brought up more questions than it answered and revealed how much work the committee still has to do in order to see their “field of dreams” come to life.

The second meeting of the committee brought new faces and a slew of questions, concerns and ideas.

Vincent Ocks, a local representative of South Central F.S. Inc., was on hand to talk about what the makeup of the dirt on the high school baseball field will be. The committee has decided to purchase a product called “turface” from South Central F.S. The turface will be mixed into the dirt, along with other components, to aid fertilizing and drying the field after a rain storm. Ocks discussed how other ballparks in Illinois use turface to great effect. South Central F.S. will get dirt samples in coming days to determine the proper mixture needed for the field. Ocks also talked about how deep the turface needs to be mixed into the existing dirt deep enough to get to the roots of the grass, to help fertilize it.

Aside from the grass being killed off, Kenny Montgomery updated the committee on what steps he has taken to build a drainage ditch to facilitate moving standing water from the back of the softball diamond to a storm drain behind the baseball and softball fields. He will complete the ditch in the coming days. Montgomery said they need three days of no rain to finish the work

Next week, Gateway Sprinkler Systems of Collinsville will put in sprinkler systems. The plan to put in the new sprinkler system may run into some obstruction, as the committee said that there are already pipes for a pre-existing sprinkler system in place along the foul lines. The old pipes will have to be removed to make room for the new system. Along with the pipes, some electrical wires running underground to the scoreboard will have to be removed.

With all of the grass being killed off, a six-inch gap between the ground and bottom of the outfield fence has been revealed. Vandalia High School baseball coach Luke Hohlt is not concerned about the problem. Hohlt said that the shop class at the high school is always looking for projects and he has been told that the class can fix it.

The committee has also decided to add bathroom improvements to the list of projects in phase one.

Enhancements for phase one of the lower field was also outlined more in-depth. The infield on the lower diamond will not have grass, and they plan on putting more limestone into the dirt on the field to aid in quick drying. A major concern for the lower diamond is the number of rocks in the infield. “It’s a rock field.” While some members question if it was possible to cover the field with enough limestone to bury the rocks, it was the consensus that the rocks would eventually find their way to the surface.

Ocks said that if funds are available, then the dirt should be cleared of rocks. He also cautioned about putting too much limestone in the mix, because it came turn muddy if there is too much rain.

The committee hit a major road block when it came to its plans for funding. At the first meeting, the committee decided to take out a loan and have it handled and distributed by the Old Capital Foundation.

“They [The Old Capital Foundation] did not want to be responsible, they didn’t want to need us to direct them to pay another entity that was going to make money on this situation,” committee chair Don Murrell said.

The committee went ahead and took out a $35,000 loan with the help of Montgomery’s accountant. Montgomery, Hohlt and Jeff Hoffman signed the loan. The money was put into a checking account called “Vandalia Field of Dreams” Montgomery and Hohlt are the only two who have access to the money at this time. They are in the process of getting a tax ID number.

In addition to the loan, they are looking into various grants. John Ashdown is the front man on applying for grants; he was not in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting.

The committee is also in the process of being recognized as a non-profit organization.

Fundraising is how the committee plans on paying back the $35,000 loan and how it plans to fund phases two and three of the project. The projected total for all phases is about $70,000.

While no fundraisers have been decided on, Hohlt has looked into a profit-sharing program with the St. Louis Cardinals. Members of the committee would work the concession stand at Cardinal home games and receive a cut of the profits. Hohlt told how the Vandalia Freight fastpitch softball team did this in the past.

Jason Luster of GSI Inc. provided the committee with a lot of insight on presenting the plan to the community. Luster suggested creating a packet to give to local business and individuals to get them interested in the enhancements and giving money. He also said an artist's rendering will give perspective donors a better idea about what the committee is trying to achieve. Luster stressed professionalism in presentation and execution.

Some fundraisers Luster brought up were golf scrambles; sponsorship banners, which the committee discussed at the first meeting; along with asking corporations for donations.

“A lot of people want to sell hot dogs and Skittles at the local games, and that’s great,” Luster said. “But you’re going to be selling Skittles until the cows come home.”

Luster stressed asking for money from corporations and big businesses who could write a check for more than you could make selling hot dogs all summer.

Hohlt said he wanted to sit down with Luster at a later date to get more of his thoughts on the committee's options.  

Luster's corporate experience and point of view revealed a lot of holes in the committee's plans and led to the committee deciding to break down into sub-committees for fundraising and construction. He also instilled the need to produce a more in-depth strategy and budget.

In spite of all of the work ahead, the goal of the committees plan still remains intact.

“This is not just about baseball fields-this is about Vandalia,” Murrell said. “My son loves the game. We talked about how we used to look at that big field, and he always said, ‘I’d love to play on that field; that’s where I want to play.’ Now we’ve got to make that field…we’re going to build more than one, we’re going to build six.”

The Field of Dreams Committee has decided to meet on the third Tuesday of every month, with sub-committees meeting on other occasions, as needed. The committee will meet again on Sept. 15 at 7:30 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church. All are welcome to attend.