After nearly 20 years, baseball is coming back to Shade Gap.
Members of the Southern Huntingdon Youth Baseball League will christen their new field behind the Shade Gap Elementary School Monday, May 27, when the first pitch is thrown at 6 p.m., following opening ceremonies at 5:30 p.m.
But the game is much more than a celebration of the league or players, it’s the culmination of a project that has encompassed the entire community.
“We figure there have been over 100 community members and businesses combined that have contributed to this field,” Shade Gap Baseball board member Brad Yohn told The Daily News as contractors finished some of the last stages of the project Friday afternoon. “Everywhere you go in town, everyone is talking about how the ball field is coming along.”
The new field and dugouts replace the original playing area that was built more than 40 years ago. The original field deteriorated after the southern Huntingdon league joined the Mount Union baseball league 17 years ago.
“Upgrades to the field were canceled when we joined the Mount Union league,” said Yohn, who was playing baseball for the league at the time. Southern teams played their games in Orbisonia and the Shade Gap field went unused.
Then, in 2018, there was a push to leave the Mount Union League and the Southern Huntingdon Youth Baseball League was formed.
“It was more condensed, but we did see the number of members join the league grow by about 20 percent,” said Yohn.
The league is made up of teams from Shade Gap, Orbisonia, Three Springs, Saltillo and Cassville, just like it was when Yohn played.
About 18 months ago, approximately 10 individuals formed the Shade Gap Baseball Board and started efforts to rebuild the field.
“We took the design and layout and presented it to the (Southern Huntingdon County) school board for its permission,” said Yohn, noting the property, and thus the field, is owned by the school district. “Maintenance supervisor Stanley Hall and superintendent Dwayne Northcraft were very supportive of the project.”
Work started on the field in July 2018, and as the project came to fruition, so did the community support.
“All of the components, the excavation, hardware, supplies, etc., cost $35,000,” said Yohn, noting the committee wasn’t eligible for grants because the field is on school property. “Of that, $15,000 was monetary donations and the other $20,000 was donations in excavation time, stone, ball dirt, supplies, etc.”
In addition to donations, retired coaches, former players and other community members came out to work on the field.
“Several thousand hours have been put into this field,” said Yohn. “This field truly belongs to the community.”
Now, as the project is in the home stretch of its first phase, Yohn said the committee knows all of the work was worth it.
“We debated buying ground elsewhere, but we wanted to keep this field here. We knew there would be support and we wanted to see baseball come back to Shade Gap,” he said.
The field will serve players ages 4-12, playing in T-ball, rookie, minor and major leagues, but Yohn emphasized it is a community field open to everyone.
Although the players will take the field Monday, Yohn said the committee’s work isn’t quite finished.
“When this phase is complete, we will install a scoreboard that the late Larry Walters of Walters Drilling donated before he passed away,” he said. “We’re also looking at lights, a concession stand and bleachers.”
Yohn and his fellow committee members hope the entire community will come out to celebrate with them Monday.
“We want to invite the entire community and thank anyone who contributed to this project in any way,” he said, noting the celebration will include chicken barbecue, burgers and raffles. “There are so many people we have to thank. We owe a debt of gratitude to everyone who has donated time, money, resources and efforts to this project.”
While just one game will be played Monday, Yohn said the field will host four to five games a week through the middle of June.
Becky can be reached at email@example.com.