Riverton • Officials say residents want youth league's baseball fields leveled; decision brings a backlash.
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When Marishia Jones' husband was diagnosed with cancer, it was the Utah Select baseball league community that supported her family.
People drove her daughter to dance rehearsals and her son to baseball games and practices, brought them meals and extended an invitation to her husband to help with the league as his health allowed.
"It really gave him a sense of purpose," Jones said.
For Jones, the baseball field is more than just a place to play.
"There's a lot of stories to be told, but it's a place where we can connect with people," Jones said.
But the league may no longer have a place to play.
Jones, along with the hundreds of families who participate in the Utah Select Baseball League, found out through the city's newsletter that the five baseball diamonds in Riverton's Main Park will be demolished on Aug. 15 to make room for a "passive park."
The league uses the field every weekday and most Saturdays from April 1 until Oct. 15, according to Brandon Riley, league director. He also said many local families use the diamonds on Sunday to play baseball, softball or kickball together.
While Riley knew there were impending renovations to the park, he was "shocked" by the newsletter, saying he believed the league would be able to stay there for another three to five years. Instead, the renovations will terminate the contract the league had with the city to use the park, which was to run through this fall's season. Riley met with Mayor Bill Applegarth to determine what he could do to help the league.
"[Applegarth] explained the process and said that the timing was his responsibility," Riley said.
Riley asked Applegarth if the league could use the Hamilton Sports Complex but was told it was full. Riley asked Applegarth what he should do to continue the league that currently has 1,700 youth playing in it.
"He said, 'You're SOL,'" Riley said.
Jeff Hawker, assistant city manager, said Riverton is maintaining the same number of baseball diamonds with the recent expansion at the Hamilton Sports Complex. Despite the impact on the youth who play in the league, he believes the passive park will better serve the Riverton community.
"We're not against baseball, but we think this refurbishment is what we should do," Hawker said. "We think that there is an undeserved portion of our population."
Hawker said Applegarth will detail the new park's amenities during July 4 festivities.
He says the decision to change the park has been part of the master plan after a 2003 survey showed more residents wanted passive parks.
"We're just adhering to our master plans," Hawker said, adding that only about 20 percent of those involved in the Utah Select Baseball League are Riverton residents.
Riley, though, argues that the league draws hundreds of people each game night to the city, many of whom frequent local businesses for dinner.
"No passive park is going to bring 300 to 400 people a night," Riley said.
Hawker, though, calls the league's economic impact "not significant."
Christian Wininger, who grew up and lives in Riverton and remembers having his first Dr. Pepper at the park, echoed Riley's sentiments.
"It's foolish to eliminate a park that brings that many people into the community," Wininger said.
He was also upset that there were no open forums for the community to provide input about the park.
The league started an online petition on Friday that had 1,250 signatures from residents from Riverton and surrounding cities by Tuesday afternoon.
"The community should have had a voice in this," Wininger said.