Where will Little League play next year?

By , on May 24, 2017
Little Leaguers run onto the field during opening ceremonies Friday in Lititz.

Little Leaguers run onto the field during opening ceremonies Friday in Lititz.

Warwick Little League President Spencer Todd warned parents and players that this year’s opening day would likely be the last at the baseball diamonds of the former Wilbur Chocolate manufacturing plant.

He was right.

It’s been confirmed that a search is in the works for new fields following an announcement Tuesday that the present fields are part of a construction project to redevelop the entire 11 acres of land that makes up the Wilbur facility.

That search, looking for at least two baseball fields which Cargill has provided to the Little League at no cost for a number of years, has been underway for months.

Collaborating in the search is Lititz Borough representatives, Warwick Township officials, the Regional Rec Commission, and new owner Oak Tree Development Group to find suitable replacement fields for future seasons.

Oak Tree had met personally with and has had continued contact with Little League representatives discussing ways to create a smooth transition for youth baseball.

But so far that search has been unsuccessful, Todd said recently.

The frustration and anxiety of not having a home baseball field in place for next year compelled some parents to take to social media.

A group started last week on Facebook called “Save Wilbur Fields” quickly attracted more than 300 followers who responded to the page’s request, “We need your help spreading the word to save the Wilbur fields!”

But that would have been an unlikely longshot as long as a year ago. The long-awaited deal to develop the Wilbur property was inked months ago, but was held up while complicated details were hashed out. Details of the plan were finally released Tuesday.

Oak Tree said it will continue to further refine its plans and submit for initial approvals in the next 60 days. The approval process is expected to take until the end of the year.

Still, with 300-plus players on the diamond each year, more than 6,600 have competed in the league in its 22-year history, it’s hard to say good-bye, said Sarah Hoover, who is spearheading the Save Wilbur Fields Facebook page.

“We understand that Wilbur is valuable land and it’s a business decision you’re making to buy, sell and develop the land, but these ballplayers and the Little League and the fields are also a part of the community,” she said.

She sent an open letter to Oak Tree Development and Cargill appealing to help these Little League kids have a home field.

“If the very first thing you do is push the community aside, well, what kind of a start is that?” Hoover wrote. “Baseball on the Wilbur fields has been a staple in the community for more than three generations of ball players.”

The Record Express met Saturday with Hoover and her son, Caedmon, 10, on the fields where he’s played Little League for five years.

When she told him the league would lose the fields, he had tears in his eyes. She decided she wanted to try to do something and started talking to other parents.

“I didn’t mean to be this mom,” said Hoover, meaning that she never expected to be an activist leading a save the fields effort. “But I needed to try to do something.”

“I’m pretty sure that most people don’t even know we will be losing Wilbur fields,” she said.

That’s why she put a sign up in the area, posting it on the concession.

“It was true. When I talked to some of the people, they had no idea the fields were in jeopardy,” she said. Sarah’s first step is creating awareness.

She set up an Instagram page and the Facebook page.

Another mother, Megan Reisch, is also involved in the effort. She has a son, Brenden, 9, who has been playing Little League for four years.

“This is such a great place, with the concession stand, press box, lights for nighttime games and everything. There are no other fields like it,” she said.

“I wish there was a grandfather clause so we could keep the fields,” said Reisch. “But I guess it doesn’t work like that.”

Hoover and Reisch hope to put enough pressure on the property owners that they would keep the field, or play a significant role in finding adequate replacement fields in a new location.

But they like the current location, right near downtown Lititz. It’s easy to get into town to eat and hang out. None of the other fields have the same downtown character, they said.

If they can’t get the owners to keep the fields as-is, their next hope is that Oak Tree, Cargill and someone else will step forward to find and then fund another field in town somewhere.

“It’s a chance for someone to be a hero,” said Hoover.

Lititz Borough Council president Karen Weibel, confirmed to the Record Express Monday — after hearing about the social media petition — that the borough, Warwick Township, Regional Rec Commission and Little League officials have been working together for several months to find permanent fields at a different location.

The search continues.

Patrick Burns is social media editor and a staff writer for the Lititz Record Express. He welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at pburns.eph@lnpnews.com or at 721-4455.


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